Recovery coaches could be game changers on opioid addiction

Legislature should move to adopt new credentialing for those working most closely with patients

IN 2017, five people died each day from opioid-related overdoses in Massachusetts. That’s nearly 2,000 families who lost a loved one. The opioid epidemic is one of the most serious public health crises of our time, and even though it causes such sadness, there are also glimmers of hope that can be seen in the joy of family members when their loved one receives help, and the pride in a person celebrating one year of recovery.

In Massachusetts, we’ve seen some progress bending the trend in the right direction. For the first time in years, opioid-related overdose deaths declined in 2017, down by an estimated 6 percent compared to 2016, according to the state Department of Public Health. In the first three months of 2018, we saw a decline in deaths of 5 percent. Meanwhile, opioid prescriptions have dropped by 29 percent in just two years. However, the DPH predicts that there will be up to 305 more deaths this year, making it very clear that there’s still plenty of work to do to end the epidemic that touches every community in Massachusetts.

Last November, the Baker administration announced its second significant legislative package to address the opioid crisis, known as the CARE Act. The proposal calls for increasing access to treatment and recovery services; addressing gaps in care by ensuring pathways to treatment through emergency rooms; and strengthening education and prevention efforts. Recently, the Massachusetts House of Representatives released its own version of the bill, also focused on the importance of placing people in treatment to achieve long-term, sustainable recovery.

Both the CARE Act and the House bill recognize and support the use of an important and effective tool for helping those who want it: recovery coaches. Recovery coaches are professionals who have lived through addiction and know the challenges and triumphs people with substance use disorders face every day, and through shared experience, they help others overcome their opioid use disorder. However, not all who can benefit from these coaches are able to access them on their own path to recovery. The CARE Act calls for establishing standards that would allow recovery coaches to be credentialed, which would raise their profile and increase their use in the treatment and payer communities.

Acting on its mission to invest in and scale evidence-based treatment solutions, RIZE Massachusetts commissioned research to explore the effectiveness of recovery coaches in opioid use disorder care, including the impact on health and cost outcomes. This research will also identify the opportunities and challenges related to the use of recovery coaches in different settings and provide findings, best practices, and policy recommendations that will be useful to Massachusetts providers, payers, and policymakers as they seek to expand access to this critical service.

Meet the Author

Julie Burns

Executive Director, RIZE Massachusetts
There will never be a one-size-fits-all approach to the opioid epidemic. It’s imperative to continue investing in evidence-based treatments across the board that give every individual an opportunity to get the help they need. RIZE stands with Gov. Baker and the House proposal and calls on the Legislature to act swiftly as if our loved ones’ lives depend on it— because they do.

Julie Burns is the executive director of RIZE Massachusetts, a private foundation committed to achieving zero deaths and zero stigma related to opioid use disorder by investing in the best solutions and brightest minds that will save lives, reduce harm, and end the opioid epidemic in Massachusetts.