Peer coaches helping addicts on the road to recovery

Published: Sep. 26, 2018 at 5:49 PM EDT
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A joint program to help those dealing with addiction has been ongoing for a few months and experts say the results are promising.

It involves putting peer recovery coaches who have battled addiction themselves in emergency departments at three Vermont hospitals to help those in crisis move to recovery.

"Peer recovery coaches can help with deciding to go into treatment, can help with what are the next steps to get to treatment and can just help the individual navigate all of the things they need to do to make that first step into the recovery programs," said Maureen Vinci of the UVM Medical Center.

The program started in July. The state says as of August 31, 162 patients have agreed to meet with a recovery coach. But the reason for the ER visits may surprise you: 104 of those visits were alcohol-related issues; 31 were opiate-related; and 12 were issues involving cocaine.

Our Dom Amato first broke the story about peer recovery coaches in July. Now, officials tell him it may not be the silver bullet for addiction but it is yet another tool they have found success with.

"Empower the client and help them feel they're connected to something," said Cam Lauf of the Turning Point Recovery Center in Burlington.

Lauf supervises the UVM Medical Center's emergency department recovery support program. It connects a trained coach who has been in recovery themselves for at least three years with a substance abuse patient coming into the ER. The goal is to relate to patients.

"Once we come in there and say, 'Look, we're not another professional, we're somebody who's been in this position before, we've navigated it, we also have the experience of utilizing experience an outside of here,' it eases the tension and a lot of people will open up," Lauf said.

There are three recovery coaches and a supervisor in Burlington, Southwestern Vermont Medical Center in Bennington and the Central Vermont Medical Center in Berlin.

"I think it's a little different than going into the formalized treatment or getting a referral," said Cindy Thomas of the Vermont Department of Health.

Thomas says the program will be paid for with grants and they hope to have a total of nine hospitals utilizing the program by next year.

"Reports from the hospital, from consumers, from the recovery centers is it's been very successful and has gone fairly smoothly," Thomas said.

Lauf has been in recovery himself for over four-and-a-half years. He believes he may have benefited from hearing someone who shared a similar experience.

"It's more of an explanation of hope, that here's somebody that's gone through this, this situation that I've been in that I put myself in and they came out on the other side," Lauf said.

Coaches will follow up with patients if they choose. Lauf says at least 10 have made it into treatment at the Turning Point Center since the program launched but opiates haven't been their biggest cause for concern.

"Alcohol, unfortunately, is the silent killer," Lauf said. "So there's a lot of funding out there for opiates and there's a lot of focus on it, and it is, it's a crisis in our community, however, alcohol is still terrorizing."

Officials at the UVM Medical Center hope to expand this program beyond the emergency department in the future but for now, they want to ensure the current program continues to run smoothly.