Peer Specialists, Technology, and the Evolution of SUD Treatment

We are excited to introduce you to Paula DeSanto, the founder and president of Minnesota Alternatives. Minnesota Alternatives offers outpatient treatment and consultation services that focus on the unique needs of the individual. We were honored to interview Paula and gain her perspective on peer specialists and the changing landscape of substance use treatment.

Q: Tell us about yourself. 

A: I founded Minnesota Alternatives in 2009 after working in the mental health field for 25 years. I heard many stories of people not being served by the “conventional” 12-step treatment experience and wanted to offer a true person-centered service. Now, after almost 10 years of practice and development of our programs, we have been acquired by Mental Health Resources (MHR), a mission-driven non-profit. MHR is a leader in community mental health and we look forward to further expansion and integration of our services.

Q: How did you get into the recovery space?

A: While working as a mental health professional in a variety of capacities, I served many who were experiencing co-occurring substance use and mental health issues. These individuals were not getting adequate treatment and often felt like “failures”, even though it was the system failing them.

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Q: How have you seen the role of peer support specialists evolve over the years?

A: Peer specialists have been working in the mental health field for several years and Minnesota recently approved peer support for substance use to be Medicaid reimbursable. It is an exciting development and I anticipate peer support specialists will soon become a robust part of the continuum of care. Hopefully, the mental health and substance use fields will continue to integrate and peers will be equipped to help those with co-occurring issues.

Q: Where do you see the future of SUD treatment heading with the help of peer specialists?

A: Peer support services can help reduce the need for treatment, both first time or returning, by engaging people who are at risk and/or seeking help. Peer support services provided through the Minnesota Alternatives RCO have helped people prepare for and enter treatment with a greater sense of readiness. They also help those transitioning out of treatment feel more comfortable with access to long-term support.

Q: How do you view the role of technology in recovery? 

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A: People spend a great deal of time on devices so I think technological tools are a valuable way to educate, support and stay connected with others. Being able to identify with others in recovery is important.

Q: Can you tell us about the Minnesota Alternatives Recovery Community Organization?

A: The non-profit was founded in 2014 with the goal of offering peer-led services to ensure ongoing support for those who struggle with mental health and substance use issues. It was inspired by the large percentage of people at Minnesota Alternatives who did not want to discontinue treatment as their program came to an end. They would often say, “Why would I stop treatment when I get so much help here?”. We saw a critical need to help people transition from treatment by offering non 12-step community support. The RCO is also open to the public and offers support groups for family members.

Q: What is the mission and vision of the RCO?

Vision: Individuals with substance use and/or co-occurring MH issues have access to a welcoming community and effective services that promote their unique version of recovery.

Mission: Provide ongoing services that promote empowerment, connection, self-directed living and an improved quality of life.

Click here to learn more about Minnesota Alternatives.