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Peer addiction support: People in long-term recovery available as resources to those struggling

The Maine Behavioral Healthcare Peer Support Program employs "Peer Support Specialists" who have experienced challenges related to addiction.

MAINE, USA — Peer support has been a technique used in addiction recovery for some time. For example, take Alcoholics Anonymous or AA. 

Now, the Maine Health System is trying out the concept in emergency situations. It implemented its Peer Support Program this past fall. 

The system's Chief Government Affairs Officer Katie Fullam Harris said it's already showing success.

"I think just having someone who is non-judgemental who can relate to what you're going through is probably very helpful," Harris said. 

The program uses the unique experiences of people in long-term recovery, such as Randy Morrison. 

"I was able to bring my own lived experience into those relationships and see what an impact that had on people in terms of, 'Oh you've been through this too, you get it.'"

The original vision was to have the peers connect with patients immediately, even right in an emergency room. 

Fullam Harris said, "We're developing systems in which when someone comes in with an overdose over substance use disorder they can be connected to a peer right then and there." 

Amid the pandemic and restricted hospital visitation policies, that plan has been adjusted for now. 

Most often, hospitals make referrals, and the folks with the Peer Support program reach out on the phone. 

If patients are receptive to the help, several doors of possibility swing open.

Morrison said, "We connect them to treatment options if that's what they're interested in. We can just check in on the phone and say, 'How's the new job going? How's life going? How's parenting going?'"

Morrison said each pathway to recovery is different. He hopes he and his team can help guide people on their unique journey. 

"The ultimate goal is to help folks really identify what their pathway is." 

If you are currently receiving services at Maine Behavioral Healthcare, you can attend any peer-led support group at any of the seven locations: Belfast, Biddeford, Brunswick, Damariscotta, Portland, Rockland, Springvale.

To learn more about the Peer Support Program click here.