Why Your Organization Needs a Peer Recovery Specialist, and How to Achieve the Best Return on That Investment

Why Your Organization Needs a Peer Recovery Specialist, and How to Achieve the Best Return on That Investment

Leveraging the lived experiences of employees improves the ability for government and businesses to deliver better services for all. Government agencies manage programs that serve a broad range of population segments. Some of these populations engage with a cross-section of government departments. Users of controlled substances, for instance, might interact with health and human services (HHS), law enforcement, and criminal justice.

Studies have shown that expanded HHS services decreases negative interactions with law enforcement. For example, a national study reported that the expansion of Medicaid directly decreased crime. Tailored law enforcement engagement with residents improves outcomes. These are desirable results for agencies and better outcomes for the individuals.

Serving such complex cases well involves a number of factors. One is leadership and staff dedicated to positive outcomes. Another is programs personalized to achieve the best results or data analysis that uncovers issues and points to solutions. A third vital piece is using the lived experience of people with substance use disorder when creating the laws and programs being built to help them.

A Peer Recovery Specialist (PRS) is someone who has experienced issues around Substance Use Disorder and are now using that lived experience as part of their professional career.

PRS team members can be valuable contributors. They can help programs spot unrecognized issues, place data in context, enable other team members to better understand challenges and solutions, and apply empathy that helps residents realize better outcomes.

I know this because I am a Business Analyst at Voyatek as a Community Engagement Specialist and in this role I use my previous activities as a PSR in an Emergency room as I partner with government agencies and community groups to better serve their constituencies. I have firsthand knowledge of how a PRS can benefit an organization, and how organizations can gain the greatest advantage from a PRS.

Data, Understanding, Empathy 

Agencies know data is a powerful tool for recognizing societal problems and developing programs to address them. The Framework for Addiction Analysis & Community Transformation (FAACT), a data-sharing initiative of the Commonwealth of Virginia, creates data-driven insights. FAACT enables healthcare organizations, law enforcement, criminal justice, and community organizations to respond to drug use and evaluate the impact of those responses.

FAACT has provided Virginia communities with valuable insights. For example:

  • Analysis of students who self-report substance use revealed that clear rules about drug use at home have an impact on the future substance use of the young person, allowing parents to be aware of their role in creating healthy environments and lifelong habits
  • Investigating data provided by the Virginia Department of Health through the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner and the Office of Emergency Medical Services FAACT reported that in 2020, women comprised 28% of Fatal Opioid Overdoses and 35% of all Non-Fatal Opioid Overdoses. These findings allow program leaders to identify and replicate successful programs that decrease fatal overdoses in a defined population and create care pathways for participants in sobriety programs.
  • Between 2015 and 2021, fentanyl fatalities have increased over 800% and are most strongly clustered around the major population areas of Richmond, Northern Virginia, Virginia Beach, and Roanoke. This information shared with senior leadership helps determine a plan for where to distribute overdose reversal medications like Naloxone and where to implement sobriety care wrap-around services.
  • Between 2015 and 2021, methamphetamine samples submitted to the Department of Forensic Science increased by 343%. The magnitude of the increase of methamphetamines mirrors the increase in fentanyl samples confiscated by various local law enforcement entities, however, these drugs require a specific focus in these localities as different resources are needed to address the drivers of methamphetamine use.

These learnings, which can help target interventions, would be impossible without cross-agency data sharing and careful data analysis. Yet raw data doesn’t always yield insights, insights don’t necessarily lead to new programs, and new programs don’t always achieve optimal outcomes. Sometimes the solution also requires understanding and empathy.

That’s where a PRS comes in. A PRS is someone who has had personal successful in the recovery process and helps others in similar situations. A PRS can help ensure that agency interventions meet residents where they are and work in the real world by using their own experiences and sharing a level of understanding.

Depending on the program, a PRS might engage in a wide range of activities. They might advocate for people in recovery, build community relationships, provide services or training, analyze data in the context of lived experience, educate policymakers and the public, administer programs, and more.

I began my PRS career in the emergency department of an urban university hospital. There, I witnessed the extraordinary power of peer-support services to improve the experiences and outcomes of people consuming mental and behavioral health services.

At Voyatek, among other responsibilities, as a business analyst I work with clients to help create efficient work flows and highlight opportunities to engage with data in a way to ensure services are delivered to those who need them.

-William Ellis, Community Engagement Specialist, Voyatek