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Peer-to-peer counseling best to combat opioid epidemic, health officials say

Health officials say peer-to-peer counseling is an effective way to combat the opioid epidemic. (WJAR)

The increase in fatal overdoses in Southern New England is a focus for health professionals.

Rhode Island Department of Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott calls it “an absolute crisis.”

Gov. Gina Raimondo will sign five new laws aimed at combatting addiction on Monday. Some aim to help police make arrests, while others ensure insurance can cover some treatments.

Alexander-Scott said it’s only a combined approach that works, and that treatment is more effective than jail time for users.

“Criminalizing people, marginalizing people, stigmatizing people, was not effective,” Alexander-Scott said Friday during a filming of 10 News Conference.

She went on to say that it’s much more effective “to consider it a public health crisis, talk about prevention, make sure that people have an opportunity to live a life of recovery, and get access to treatment.”

One of the most effective treatments involves working with addicts in recovery. One such person is George O’Toole, who now leads a team of “recovery coaches.”

“Not all of us need to go directly to prison,” O’Toole said. “Treatment might work. I was an addict for a long time. I always went straight to prison.”

He said his recovery might have come about sooner if he had gone into treatment instead of a jail cell.

Kelly Walsh is a recovery coach and leads peer-to-peer counseling at an Anchor Recovery facility. She knows it works from her own experience.

“If I didn’t have people like my predecessors before me to guide me, to show me that it can be done, to give me a hope shot, like, wow!” Walsh said.

Task forces throughout the country, and even on the federal level, are continuing to try to find ways to save people with substance problems. More and more, the proposed solutions go beyond law enforcement and are focusing on the public health aspects of drug addiction.

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