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FINDING HOPE: Partnership aims to connect drug overdose patients with recovery coaches

Coaches have firsthand experience with addiction
Posted: 2:55 PM, Jul 01, 2019
Updated: 2019-07-06 14:41:41-04

BOISE, Idaho — A brand new partnership in the works at a Boise hospital is connecting drug overdose patients with recovery coaches before they even leave the emergency department. Program leaders say it's a crucial component to achieving long-term sobriety.

Over the last few months, leaders at the P.E.E.R. Wellness Center in Boise have been traveling across the country to learn from recovery coach programs in other states, and training people in the Treasure Valley to help lead people from drug overdose hospitalization to recovery.

"We are losing way too many people right now to accidental overdose," Recovery United, Inc. CEO Monica Forbes said.

"I'm not sure that we can slow the trend of overdoses, but if we can slow the trend of overdose deaths that would be huge," P.E.E.R. Wellness Center director Chris Mecham said, "and if we can increase the number of people who engage in recovery that would be really ideal."

It's a sad reality hitting states across the country. Emergency departments are dedicating resources to treating patients after a drug overdose, many turning fatal.

"Since 2009, at least 30 of my friends have died," Recovery 4 Life coach Lindsay Brown said.

Brown is a recovery coach in the Treasure Valley, hoping to help slow the trend of fatal overdoses by providing support and encouragement to those patients in the Boise area. But these coaches aren't on the outside looking in. They're approaching these fragile relationships with firsthand experience in addiction, currently living sober lives.

Monica Forbes has survived drug overdoses herself, now drawing from her own experiences to help others.

"Lived experience helps us not be judgmental with the person that we're working with. We know, we've been there, we are them," Forbes explained. "The interaction completely changes when someone realizes, 'You do know what I'm going through, you're not judging me, you understand. The walls fall down, the connections that are made are powerful."

"That's what I really want to be, is that person that continues to be their cheerleader and be their coach and encourage them even when they're feeling at their worst," recovery coach intern Jess Johnson said.

So here's how the program will work: Before the patient is discharged from the hospital, staff will ring up a recovery coach who will come straight to the ER to meet one-on-one with the patient in private.

"The best way to engage those people is to get them at the moment they're willing," Mecham said.

"We don't want them leaving the hospital by themself," Forbes explained.

Similar programs are seeing success in other states, partnering people who've already navigated their way to recovery with those actively sitting at their own rock bottom.

"It's real, human connection, it's not fake," Brown explained. "Because I can say to somebody, 'I know exactly what you're talking about, I remember feeling like that, I remember going through this. This is what I did to get out, do you want to try this?' Sometimes they say no, and I'm like, 'Awesome, what do you think is going to work?'"

On top of emotional support and encouragement they're also providing resources, phone numbers and information for local recovery centers to help that person jump right into a program if that's what they want. Coaches are sure to never tell people what they should do, instead helping them get there in their own way.

"So they start thinking, 'Well if I'm not sober, all of this other stuff that I want, I'm not going to have.' For them to make that connection on their own, that's huge," Brown said.

"A lot of what we've talked about in training is being the light for somebody," Jess Johnson explained. "Whether you're just living your own life and showing them what is possible, or helping them figure out what they want to do with their lives."

They're still finalizing the legal logistics of the program, but leaders say they've already helped more than 20 patients of accidental opiate overdoses in Boise.