AUSTIN, Texas — Texans with substance use disorders who work with a peer recovery coach for a minimum of 12 months remain abstinent or reduce their substance use, improve their housing and employment status and reduce their overall use of health care services, according to a new report from social work researchers at The University of Texas at Austin.
Addiction to alcohol or drugs affects millions of people in the United States, and drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death among Americans under age 50. When it comes to treatment, much of the public discussion is still focused on admission to a detox facility, followed by a short-term stay in “rehab.” But addiction treatment experts emphasize the need to shift away from this acute care model and toward long-term recovery models. As with other chronic illnesses such as diabetes, substance use disorders require ongoing care and support services encompassing the whole health of the individual.
In accordance with this approach, in 2014 the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) funded a network of 22 community-based addiction treatment providers across the state to offer long-term recovery services through access to peer recovery coaches — individuals in recovery who complete 46 hours of HHSC-approved training and provide one-to-one coaching in support of each person’s unique recovery path. Other services include peer-run groups, social and wellness activities, training in life skills such as financial management and parenting, and connections to ongoing recovery supports in their home communities.
Social work researchers analyzed 2014-16 data from this network. Results for the 1,123 individuals who worked with a peer recovery coach for a minimum of 12 months showed that 83 percent remained abstinent or reduced their substance use; 54 percent owned or rented their living quarters, compared with 32 percent at the time of enrollment; and 57 percent were employed, compared with 23 percent at enrollment. In addition, they decreased their overall use of health care services — including inpatient, outpatient and emergency care — representing a 74 percent reduction in health care costs between enrollment ($4,384,325) and 12 months after enrollment ($1,123,863).
“Peer coaches not only provide recovery advice and support but also help individuals with substance use disorders address a range of life problems — from unemployment to housing — that often hinder recovery. It is very encouraging that people show improvement in many domains of life when they work long-term with a peer recovery coach,” said Lori Mangrum, the lead social work researcher for this project.
In addition to access to peer recovery coaches, the HHSC-funded network provided recovery support such as health and wellness activities, sober social activities, housing and financial assistance to 6,879 individuals; education on topics such as employment, life skills and GED preparation to 13,027 individuals; and facilitated volunteer activities for 2,370 individuals that contributed nearly 27,000 volunteer hours at an estimated financial value of $400,435.