“Strung out. Looking for the next fix. A full time job that doesn’t pay, but just takes.”

That’s how one of Magellan’s Recovery Support Navigators defined her addiction to opiates. She has since overcome the stranglehold of addiction and is now in long term recovery.  Her experiences, and those of her fellow Recovery Support Navigators, provide the credibility needed to influence their peers who are still struggling with addiction and mental illness that recovery is possible and that desperation does not have to define a life.

An estimated 20.2 million Americans live with a substance use disorder[1]. That’s the population of my home state of Florida. Of that, 2.1 million Americans live with an opioid disorder. Similar to serious mental illnesses, substance use disorders can be difficult to address. Those with the lived experience of walking the path from hopelessness to wellness are experts at engaging individuals with the services and supports that foster the recovery process. Stories of changed lives are not the only proof.

A January 2018 study of our internal recovery support navigation program at Magellan Health found statistically significant improvements for individuals living with substance use and mental health disorders. A key component of the Magellan’s internal peer support program is meeting people where they are. The first engagement with members often happens in an emergency room, inpatient setting, or on the streets. Members then choose where future meet-ups happen. Often, that choice is in the comfort of their own home.  If they are experiencing homelessness, the member chooses a safe place.

The study compared utilization of services six months prior to receiving peer support services and six months following the completion of peer support services. Seventy-five percent of the members in the study had a co-occurring mental health and substance use disorder and 50 percent had a co-occurring substance use disorder, mood disorder and psychotic disorder. The study found that members in Magellan’s internal peer support program cost the health plan significantly less in the six months following completion of the peer support program than members who only had care management or who did not receive any intervention from the health plan. The study also found that six months after completing peer services, peer support decreased emergency room and inpatient hospitalizations.

The role modeling by a peer specialist of a life lived well in recovery is evidence for the individual struggling that there can be long term sustainment of recovery. In addition, the data from this study replicates prior findings that peer support has a lasting impact on the lives of those living with substance use and mental health disorders.

[1] Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2017). Mental and substance use disorders. Retrieved from https://www.samhsa.gov/disorders