Some 1,182 Marylanders died from unintentional drug- and alcohol-related deaths in the first six months of 2019, according to the Maryland Department of Health and the state’s Opioid Operational Command Center. Baltimore City remains at the epicenter for overdose deaths from opioids in the state. With one of the busiest Emergency Departments in the state, Ascension Saint Agnes sees the impact of these issues in its community every day.

The Ascension Saint Agnes Health Institute launched an important tool to help those suffering from substance use disorder in March 2018. Screening, Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT) is an evidence-based practice used to identify, reduce and prevent problematic use, abuse and dependence on alcohol and illicit drugs.

A unique characteristic of this approach is the use of Peer Recovery Coaches—mentors who can share their stories of recovery from addiction. These individuals are trained to offer a helping hand and listening ear to patients who might be struggling with drugs or alcohol.

“Our patients appear more willing to engage in an honest dialogue about substance use when it is with a peer that lived that same experience,” said Dawn O’Neill, Vice President, Ascension Saint Agnes Health Institute.

Social worker manager Cassandra Dobbs and Peer Recovery Coach Rodney James recently sat down with WYPR FM’s “On the Record” program to give listeners an overview of the peer recovery program at Ascension Saint Agnes.

“Every patient who comes into the Emergency Department is screened” for substance use disorders, Cassandra said. “It spans across gender, socioeconomic and racial groups. So we want to use our best efforts to catch and implement services to our patients when they are within our walls.”

If a patient identifies with a certain score during screening by a nurse, a peer recovery coaches is called. Ascension Saint Agnes employs four Peer Recovery Coaches located within the Emergency Department and Labor & Delivery unit, and an Overdose Survivor Outreach Program worker. Coaches might conduct 15 interventions on an average day.

Rodney said his experience of relapse and recovery can help him connect with patients who are considering treatment.

“They might think they can shoot one past me and I don’t know it,” Rodney said of interacting with a patient for the first time. “Then I’ll let them know and explain to them that, ‘Hey, I was where you are.’”

Listen to the full interview here.


Photo: Cassandra Dobbs and Rodney James recently recorded a radio interview on substance abuse disorder treatment.