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The ongoing COVID-19 crisis has damaged the mental health of many Georgians and exacerbated the use of alcohol and drugs. Financial stressors, the difficulties of parenting, and almost universal uncertainty brought about by COVID-19 have dramatically increased depression, anxiety, stress, and substance use among Georgians. Some will seek supports and services to manage their health, which may be provided in part by certified peer specialists.
Certified peer specialists (CPS) provide support and education to individuals and families while they navigate mental health and/or substance use recovery supports and services. CPS have played a vital role in Georgia’s mental health and substance use recovery systems for over 20 years.
Certified peer specialists are unique among health care providers and allied health professionals because they are required to have lived experience with substance use disorder recovery and/or mental health recovery. Lived experience means that they are in recovery themselves, are a caregiver or partner to a loved one in recovery, or have other direct experience.
CPS’ lived experiences are critical in helping others identify and set goals for themselves. CPS possess a unique knowledge and wisdom from their lived experiences and training that allow them to serve as a trusted mentor and inspiration to the people they work with. They are better able to understand what people are going through and can help set realistic goals and channels of communication.
Depending on their particular experiences and training, CPS are certified to address mental health and/or addictive diseases with youth, adults, and/or parents.
For this blog, GHF talked to our partners at the Georgia Council on Substance Abuse (GCSA) to learn more about Georgia’s leadership in the area of peer supports, CPS work in Georgia, and how the CPS model addresses substance use disorders through innovative partnerships and programs.
Certified peer specialists working in Georgia
Georgia’s CPS training was the first in the nation and in 1999, Georgia became the first state to receive Medicaid reimbursement for peer support services delivered by CPS. As of 2019, there are over 3,000 CPS working in/certified to work in Georgia.
The Georgia Mental Health Consumer Network (GMHCN) began a Medicaid-billable Certified Peer Specialist in Mental Health (CPS-MH) training program in 2001. GMHCN trains CPSs “to assist others in skill-building, problem-solving, setting up and maintaining self-help mutual support groups, and building self-directed recovery tools.”
GCSA developed the Certified Addiction Recovery Empowerment Specialist (CARES) Academy to promote long-term recovery for substance use disorders using the CPS-MH model. Nearly all of GCSA’s staff are CARES certified, and many have dual certifications in both CPS-MH and CARES.
GCSA has trained more than 750 CARES to date. CARES work in SUD treatment centers, accountability courts, jails, medication-assisted treatment centers, hospitals, and other diverse settings across the state. GCSA places some CARES in hospital emergency departments (ED) to provide peer support to individuals who come to the ED for any substance use related reason (ex: drunk driving accident, fall/cut in the person’s home due to intoxication, overdose). Other CARES serve mothers experiencing substance use challenges during pregnancy and post-birth at Northeast Georgia Hospital System’s Neonatal Intensive Care Units (NICUs).
CARES peers also operate GCSA’s Warm Line through which they provide free telephone or text support to individuals struggling with substance use (or who have a loved one who is struggling). Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, an increasing number of calls and texts have come into the Warm Line, demonstrating an increased need for support and connection among people with substance use challenges. CARES are also hosting twice daily virtual all recovery meetings at 10 am and 7 pm to provide an additional layer of support.
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