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Colton Baker, CPS & Executive Team Member of MO-PROS, shares that long-term recovery from a substance use disorder requires access to a number of resources -- medication-assisted treatment, recovery housing, community support, among others.
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MO-PROS' peer, Joe Foege, shares what keeps him sober today and what allows him to help others reach long-term recovery as well.
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Ryan Wigger is a MO-PROS peer who's treatment and access to recovery housing was funded through the State Opioid Response (SOR) grant. If Medicaid expansion passes, more Missourians struggling with substance use disorders will gain access to funding allowing them to seek treatment.
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This week, MO-PROS sent the below letter to state legislators asking them to vote for Medicaid expansion on August 4 and to urge their constituents to do the same. Medicaid expansion is critical to ensuring some of Missouri's most vulnerable can access the health care, treatments and services they need to achieve long-term recovery from substance use disorders.
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Dear Legislators and Public Officials,
Thank you for your continued efforts to address the COVID-19 pandemic, which has created a great deal of fear and anxiety across the country. In Missouri, the addiction recovery community has been significantly impacted by COVID-19, opening the door to new challenges and concerns for treatment providers, mental health professionals and those who are in and seeking recovery from substance use disorders.
As you continue to make emergency policy decisions and determine how to allocate funds to address the coronavirus outbreak, please remember the important work that mental health and addiction treatment professionals are doing to support some of Missouri’s most vulnerable individuals. In particular, we ask that you invest in peer support services, recovery housing and treatment services--all of which are critical to long-term recovery.
Peer support services have been significantly impacted by COVID-19. Peers play a major role in recovery housing and treatment settings, using their personal recovery experiences to support and advocate for their clients who are working toward recovery. Peer-based recovery has been linked to improved relationships with treatment providers, increased treatment retention, better access to social supports, decreased criminal justice involvement and emergency service utilization, greater housing stability and reduced substance use.
Because of the outbreak, peers have had to take on new tasks, taking away time spent with clients one-on-one and leading to burnout—a common issue among peers under normal circumstances, but one that has been exacerbated by the isolation and disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Adequately funding the recovery community overall, including recovery housing and treatment services, will ensure that peers are being utilized as effectively as possible.
Recovery housing operators are stretching their budgets to purchase food and other essential items for residents, many of whom have lost their jobs and are struggling to afford rent, food, transportation and other basic needs. Some housing providers have even had to invest in additional technology to ensure residents can utilize telehealth services.
In addition, while some treatment services are being offered online and via telehealth, others have been suspended or shut down completely for the time being. Given the already compromised immune systems of their clientele, treatment agencies have no choice but to exercise extreme caution. However, closing their doors, even temporarily, may be detrimental—not just for those in and seeking recovery, but for programs’ financial stability, even long after the outbreak subsides.
We have already begun to see a significant increase in demand for mental health services, and unfortunately, we expect this trend to continue as more people experience layoffs, financial insecurity and unprecedented feelings of isolation and stress. Missouri must invest in its recovery infrastructure today—especially peer support services, recovery housing and treatment services—so that we can continue serving those who need us in the weeks, months and years to come.
We welcome your questions and the opportunity to discuss how our addiction recovery community can best be supported during these challenging times. Thank you, again, for your continued efforts.
The following organizations and individuals support greater investment in Missouri’s recovery community amid the COVID-19 pandemic:
Recovery House of St. Louis
Missouri Coalition of Recovery Support Providers
Hope Homes of the Ozarks
Freedom City Church
ASCENT Recovery Residences
Recycling Grace Women’s Center
COPS Outpatient Treatment
FaithWalk Ministry, Inc.
The Road Men’s House
Southeast Missouri Recovery Alliance
National Council on Alcoholism & Drug Abuse
Haven Recovery Homes
Missouri Recovery Network
Comtrea Health Center
Living In Victory
Fred Rottnek, MD, MAHCM, Program Director, Addiction Medicine Fellowship, Saint Louis University School of Medicine
* denotes peer support specialist/individual in recovery
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By Emily Jung
Emily Jung is a peer support specialist and founding member of MO-PROS.
As of Friday, April 3, 2020, there were 239,279 diagnosed cases of COVID-19 and 5,443 deaths due to the virus in the United States alone. This global pandemic has led to major political, social and economic consequences, and a great deal of uncertainty remains over what’s to come in the weeks and months ahead.
Missouri’s addiction recovery community has also been feeling the impacts of COVID-19, creating new difficulties and concerns for treatment providers, mental health professionals and those in and seeking recovery.
Effects on Treatment
Amid the outbreak, treatment agencies have had to suspend and shut down certain services, with most detox and inpatient facilities closing their doors. Some outpatient facilities have stopped accepting new clients, while group therapy and individual counseling sessions are being cancelled or moved to telehealth.
Given the already compromised immune systems of their clientele, treatment agencies have no choice but to exercise extreme caution. However, closing their doors, even temporarily, may be detrimental—not just for those in and seeking recovery, but for programs’ financial stability, even long after the outbreak subsides.
Effects on Recovery Housing
Recovery housing providers are also feeling the ripple effect of COVID-19. In an effort to minimize the spread of the virus, access to recovery housing has become more limited.
Recovery homes are in a particularly challenging position, with many residents continuing to work at essential businesses like grocery stores and restaurants. People are coming and going, putting their fellow residents at risk for increased exposure. At the same time, other residents are losing their jobs due to layoffs, jeopardizing their ability to pay for rent, food, transportation and other basic needs.
In light of these complications, housing providers are stretching their budgets to purchase food and other essential items for their residents. Some have even had to invest in additional technology to keep up with treatment agencies as they shift to telehealth services. And, given that these houses are often in lower income areas, residents fear that they’ll be impacted by increased crime rates.
Effects on Peer Support Services
Certified peer support specialists, who use their personal recovery experiences to support and advocate for others navigating the treatment system, are also being impacted by the pandemic. Peers play many important roles within the recovery community, working in hospital settings, outreach, inpatient and outpatient facilities, recovery housing and connecting clients with the community resources they need for long-term recovery.
With so many of these services being suspended, limited or moved to telehealth, outreach coaches are seeing a decrease in new referrals. This means fewer individuals are requesting these services, or that hospitals, facing an influx of patients with symptoms of COVID-19, aren’t able to provide the same number of referrals that they normally would. Both scenarios are cause for concern.
Peer support specialists working in treatment agencies are now being utilized to facilitate telehealth between clients and doctors, meaning less time to engage with their clients themselves. Meanwhile, peers in recovery housing are spending more time cleaning and sanitizing—a critically important and necessary task, but one that takes away from time spent meeting with their residents one-on-one. Peers are doing their best to balance their changing workloads, with many offering virtual meetings, but are working harder than ever to maintain the culture of their houses and prevent relapses among residents.
Across the treatment system, peer support specialists are reaching out to clients by phone as much as possible. However, since many of our clients do not have phones, this arrangement is not without challenges. A peer could sit in a room all day, calling one client after another, and only successfully reach a dozen. And, in many cases, there’s just no substitute for face-to-face interaction.
When peers are able to get in touch with their clients, increased feelings of fear and anxiety are the norm. Clients are not just scared of contracting COVID-19; they fear relapse, unemployment, financial instability and losing access to the treatment services and resources they’ve come to rely on. Their routines are being disrupted. They are bored and feeling isolated—and the last thing someone early in recovery needs is to feel isolated or alone.
Peer support specialists care deeply for their clients. We worry about them, and our concern has certainly been heightened during these stressful times.
On the Other Hand…
Despite the many challenges the recovery community has encountered in the age of COVID-19, we have also been encouraged by what has been done in such a short period of time to support Missourians in and seeking recovery. Treatment agencies, recovery housing providers and peer support specialists across the state are doing the best they can for their clients, and as they become more comfortable with the new technology and the new climate of the field, we are hopeful that services will increase.
Now more than ever, there is no doubt about the level of dedication of those working in addiction treatment and mental health. These individuals will always strive to do more in support of their clients, and they are coming together to do so, even in the most unprecedented and uncertain of circumstances. Doctors, counselors, peers support specialists and administrative staff are uniting to help one another and to help their clients at a time when it is needed most, and we will get through this together.
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MO-PROS executive member Colton Baker recently had the opportunity to testify before the Missouri Task Force on Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment.
Representing both MO-PROS and the ARCHway Institute, Baker advocated for a more holistic approach to substance use and mental health treatment and shared his own personal recovery experience. For Colton, medication-assisted treatment—specifically, Vivitrol—and housing were critical to his recovery.
Missourians with substance use disorders must have access to evidence-based treatment and resources, including peer support specialists. Peers use their lived experiences to navigate the treatment system, with the ultimate goal of achieving long-term recovery. Missouri has an opportunity to utilize peer support specialists more broadly and effectively through a variety of settings: formal treatment services, outreach programs like the EPICC project and even transitional housing organizations.
During his testimony, Baker also advocated for informed consent regarding treatment planning and recovery support services and highlighted the need to destigmatize conversations around mental health and substance use.
The ARCHway Institute has been a leader in developing a more empowered, effective peer movement, utilizing peers on the frontlines to assist individuals and families seeking access to quality treatment and recovery support services in the state. MO-PROS is continuing to work closely with ARCHway and others to expand these efforts and support the role of peers in the recovery process.
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ST. LOUIS—With the addiction epidemic continuing to take a toll on communities across Missouri, peer support specialists from across the state have come together to form a new coalition focused on helping more Missourians reach long-term recovery: MO-PROS (Providing Resources, Opportunities and Service for Missourians in Recovery).
MO-PROS will be working to elevate and enhance the role of peer support specialists through more effective trainings and greater education around what peers do and the value they provide their clients and the treatment community overall.
“Peer support specialists provide a unique and all-important perspective within the care team, using their own personal recovery experiences to help others,” said Emily Jung, cofounder of MO-PROS. “The members of our coalition have firsthand experience navigating what can be a confusing and complicated treatment system. We understand the barriers to treatment that are out there, and we’re committed to advocating on behalf of Missourians so they can receive the comprehensive, patient-centered care they need and deserve.”
MO-PROS will regularly bring peers together to share experiences and troubleshoot and discuss best practices.
“We know from our own personal experiences that having a voice and choice in the treatment and recovery process is critical to finding long-term success,” said Jordan Hampton, member of MO-PROS. “Sadly, people living with substance use disorders aren’t always able to advocate for themselves—MO-PROS is here to help bridge the gap.”
According to the latest CDC report, over 1,000 Missourians died from drug overdoses in 2018. Peer-based recovery has been linked to improved relationships with treatment providers, increased treatment retention, better access to social supports, decreased criminal justice involvement and emergency service utilization, greater housing stability and reduced substance use.
“While everyone’s journey to recovery looks different, we believe that peer support specialists have an important role to play in helping Missourians access the resources, opportunities and services they need to return to healthy, meaningful lives,” said Jung.
For more information about MO-PROS or how to get involved, visit www.mo-pros.org.