Peers with experience help recovering addicts

BY Michael Hill, Correspondent |

34-year-old Shannon’s addiction journey began when she was 11.

“I was on Ritalin as a child and realized quickly once you abuse that it has the same effect as cocaine. I woke up and I was sick and tired of being sick and tired, so they helped guide me to detox,” she said.

But, she feared her criminal charges, including for theft, would land her in the Morris County Jail. A friend referred Shannon to CARES — the Center for Addiction Recovery Education and Success — and Lead Peer Recovery Specialist Alton Robinson called the sheriff and Shannon’s legal problems disappeared.

“We have this young lady here. She’s willing to do whatever she needs to do to make her life better. We need to help her,” Robinson said.

“Like I said, I was scared they were going to lock me up and throw away the key. It was a whole dramatization that I made up in my head of how I thought it was going to go, but it just totally didn’t,” said Shannon.

Robinson says that typifies how CARES advocates for clients by creating community partnerships that knock barriers to help.

CARES doesn’t just have peer recovery specialists, it literally wrote the book on it — the curriculum for the entire state. It trains and educates those who want to be peer recovery specialists.

“[It says] how to harness their own abilities and their uniqueness into a supportive plan, a co-created plan with the person who’s suffering from substance abuse disorder,” said Patrick Roff, director of peer recovery services at CARES

Roff wrote the curriculum on recovery coaching. The training consists of 46 hours of instruction over eight weeks, 500 hours of recovery volunteering or job experience and 25 hours of supervised work. All that to earn certification from the Addiction Professionals Certification Board of New Jersey, a credential honored in 48 states and on two other continents. Roff has turned it into a college course as well.

Gov. Chris Christie said it’s an “extraordinarily important program” when he announced the recovery coach program would expand to all 21 counties. But Frank Greenagel, instructor and policy expert from Rutgers Center of Alcohol Studies, has misgivings about recovery coaching.

“The law as it’s written right now does have people being supervised the way they should,” Greenagel said. “So, in some ways it could possibly do more harm than good.”

CARES’ Patrick Roff says that’s why his training is heavy on ethics.

“We want to ensure that we are not harming anyone and that if there is somebody who does violate the boundaries, or the ethical responsibilities, that there’s a way to manage that. You can lose a CPRS,” Roff said.

CARES says it’s about raising the standards for recovery coaching so clients can sustain their recovery.