Peer Recovery Coach Utilization in New Jersey

Peer recovery coaches are the fastest-growing support service for those in recovery, but utilization of coaches varies from state to state. We wanted to learn more about how communities outside of Minnesota are working with peer recovery coaches, so we teamed up with Joel, our March Specialist Spotlight! Keep reading to learn about the utilization of recovery coaches in New Jersey.

One of the most exciting ways we are seeing peers used in New Jersey is through Woodbridge Township. Mainstream Recovery, my consulting firm, has been working with the township for several years in the development of their Woodbridge Addiction Recovery Mentor Program (WARM), which provides recovery coaches to members of their community. They have a total of nine municipal partners and five hospitals they are serving with their recovery coaches.

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Woodbridge is the first and only township, that we are aware of, that has recovery coaches working directly as township employees. Woodbridge Mayor John McCormac is very proud of using community tax dollars to address the most pressing public health issue in his community. And, he is encouraging other highly impacted communities to adopt the same practice. Too often we see our township administrations, city councils, and elected officials waiting for a grant or funding to come from somewhere rather than reallocating the funds already in place. Unfortunately, the additional funding doesn’t normally come, and if it does, it is not nearly enough to substantially reduce the rates of drug use and overdose in a community.

Woodbridge currently has 22 coaches who work for the town, providing 24/7 coaching support for anyone in need. They use their coaches for individuals in the community and coaches are available in the local hospitals, police department and at the municipal court to engage people at their court hearings. They also have an employment program where they use the coaches to support people reentering the workforce. It is an outstanding model we hope to see more of across the state. In 2018, the majority of the state saw a 33% increase in overdose deaths. But, Woodbridge who had been a leader in OD deaths in the state, actually saw a 0% increase. Their program is truly making a difference.

Peer recovery coaches have been working in New Jersey since 2009 when the first Recovery Community Center was implemented and the City of Angels was founded. But, peer support services were used on a small scale until about 2016 when we saw the Addiction Certification Board adopt the CPRS credential. Around that time we had the first funding come into the state which allowed the Opioid Overdose Recovery Programs to be implemented. Originally, it started with just five of the 21 counties in the state, but it then spread rather throughout New Jersey. We now have peers working in 58 out of 72 state hospitals. Most hospitals are providing 24/7 addiction and overdose support to individuals in need.

Joel and Congressman Frank Pallone after they both spoke at a press conference about new legislation focused on substance use disorders.

Joel and Congressman Frank Pallone after they both spoke at a press conference about new legislation focused on substance use disorders.

We are also seeing many counties implement law enforcement assisted recovery programs. It was a remarkable experience for me to be involved in the first program of its kind in the state, which was the East Brunswick Heroin & Opioid Prevention Effort (HOPE). The program was implemented in January 2016 and consisted of a partnership of the East Brunswick police department and the treatment program where I was employed. I was the lead recovery coach working on the program at the time it was implemented. It was a remarkable experience because I was raised in East Brunswick, and arrested five times in the town. When we implemented the program I personally trained all 83 police officers working for the township. Since then we have seen about eight counties implement similar programs, some adopted by the prosecutor’s office and some directly through the police department.

Just a few months ago the Attorney Generals office made funding available to all prosecutor’s offices throughout the state to implement the Operation Helping Hand Program, which utilizes treatment professionals and recovery coaches to engage people in the community and helps them access needed resources. I believe 19 counties have adopted this program and now have access to peers working throughout their county. It’s great work! We are excited to be working with Middlesex County on this project as well.

We have also seen the adoption of HOPE Vans throughout several Sheriff’s Departments in the state. This initiative was started in Morris County by Sheriff Gannon. The HOPE Van is a re-purposed tactical vehicle that is outfitted to provide recovery support directly to the community. Since its inception just two years ago, there are five other counties who have adopted a HOPE Van and now drive directly to the most impacted areas of their county to provide support. The staffing for these vehicles includes peers to engage with members of the community.

Last year we also saw the implementation of the Next Steps Program at the Monmouth County Jail, which is the first and only county jail in the state to provide recovery coaches to every inmate that comes in with a substance use issue. There are some restrictions in the program related to the person’s charges and/or criminal history. In the past six months, there were over 600 inmates who met with a recovery coach and received services. Mainstream Recovery was fortunate to be involved in that program and developed the policy and procedure for the program's implementation.

Joel with Middlesex County Freeholder Blanquita Valenti receiving the proclamation marking September as Recovery Month.

Joel with Middlesex County Freeholder Blanquita Valenti receiving the proclamation marking September as Recovery Month.

Rutgers University launched a program in January of 2018 that uses recovery coaches, their actual title is Health Navigators, to engage inmates at the state prison level. This is exciting to see as the rates of recidivism for inmates leaving prison is somewhere around 70%, although that number has significantly dropped in New Jersey over the past few years. This program also provides the longest follow-up time frame available through any state-funded program that currently exists, by providing peer recovery support services for an 18-month period. The next longest program in the state provides 12 months of follow-up services.

Rutgers also has a Vet-to-Vet program and operates a program that is using recovery coaches to follow up with individuals who call into the state addiction hotline. For several years Rutgers has operated the state addiction hotline which provides services to those on Medicaid and who are indigent. Until just last year these individuals were being followed up with appropriately because of a lack of funding. Now, trained peers are able to check in with these individuals to ensure their connection to and transition from a variety of programs & services.

We are also starting to see recovery coaches working in various treatment facilities as providers are beginning to see their effectiveness. They are also working in Recovery Residences, the children’s system of care through the Department of Children and Families, and various nonprofit organizations that provide services to their local communities. We also hope to see programs implemented at the probation, parole, and drug court levels.

Although a lot of this is just getting started, we are hoping to these programs widely and effectively implemented.