Peer coaches at IU Health help recovering substance abusers

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INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Thursday was mental health day around the world, and the purpose was to raise awareness about mental health and getting rid of the stigma surrounding it.

IU Health’s peer substance abuse recovery program has helped 800 substance abuse victims get connected to the help they need after winding up in the emergency room.

Recovery coaches say substance abuse disorder and mental health issues go hand in hand, and if people who are hitting rock bottom can get a push in the right direction, they can lead healthier lives both mentally and physically.

Every day, people find themselves in the emergency room after abusing some type of drug. At 13 IU Health emergency rooms across Indiana, a team is on standby and ready to talk.

“Hourly,” said Lead Peer Recovery Coach Spencer Medcalf. “Probably by the minute. We’re seeing on average, probably five to 10 patients a day. We know that there’s a large number of patients that we could engage with.”

The program started a year ago as an intervention and to get patients connected with the resources they need to get help. While any doctor could give them that information, everyone on the peer recovery team is a recovering substance abuser.

“We really take the time to connect with them, let them know, you know, I was a person that was recurrent in emergency rooms,” Medcalf said. “Some of our coaches have been in those same emergency rooms. I myself am not only recovering from substance use disorder, but I’m recovering from an eating disorder, self-harm, and have survived several suicide attempts myself. Got sober, and I’ll have 2.5 years sober on the 25th of this month.”

Having spoken to 800 patients in a year, not every person is going to take the advice, but there’s a personal stake in every conversation.

“Because it just makes me feel good about being able to help somebody else and get them the help that they need, honestly,” said Peer Recovery Coach Danielle York.

If even one person gets the help they need, the peer recovery team counts it as a success. After after having their first one-year check in, the team members are feeling pretty good.

“That person actually reported to be in long-term recovery and kind of specifically said that it was a huge help to speak to us in the emergency room and also our follow-up calls were a huge driving factor in support of his recovery,” Medcalf said. “So, I would say that in of itself, that one patient that reports that, it pretty much defines the success of the whole program, but I can be biased in that, too.”

Coaches said before you even talk to them, patients should ask for help if they can. They can call 211 to find the type of hotline needed, visit an emergency room or talk to a trusted loved one who can help.

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