In Opioid Battle, Mass. Recovery Coaches Go Unchecked - NECN
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In Opioid Battle, Mass. Recovery Coaches Go Unchecked

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Loose Rules for Opioid 'Recovery Counselors'

    In the midst of the opioid crisis, recovery coaches are trying to help fight addiction. But right now, anyone in Massachusetts can call themselves one, even without training.

    (Published Friday, Jan. 19, 2018)

    In the midst of an addiction crisis that's happened all over the United States from painkillers to Fentanyl, a relatively new phenomenon is born: more and more recovery coaches.

    Experts say a recovery coach is a crucial part of an addict's chances of beating the disease — but in Massachusetts, there's no regulation. Currently, anyone in the state can call themselves recovery coaches. In fact, there's not even one single definition of what a recovery coach does or is. So someone can be a coach without any addiction treatment, training or experience.

    There are a handful of programs that are set up to train and certify coaches, but none of them are mandatory. Experts argue that a weeklong program isn't enough to train people on ethics or the responsibility they are about to take on, which in some cases could mean life or death for a recovering addict.

    Richie Evans is know as "the wolf" around his recovery clients — not only because he's obsessed with wolves and he has a good collection in his office, but also because he says wolves are fierce protectors, and that's what he tries to do everyday: protect other addicts who were just like him.

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    Evans is a recovering addict himself. He's a recovery coach supervisor, which means he helps sign off on people's recovery coach hours, but he's not yet a certified coach, pending approval of his 500 working hours in the field.

    "Even though people are certified, it doesn’t mean they are out there with us, on the front lines, shaking the trees," said Evans.

    The certification he's waiting on doesn't mean much in Massachusetts right now. In fact, anyone call themselves a recovery coach with far less experience than he has.

    "There are no rules in Massachusetts, currently," said Gov. Charlie Baker.

    The governor has submitted the Care Act, though, which would set a standard and credentials for recovery coaches.

    Right now, there's only a suggestion to get certified with 40 hours of state training programs and 500 supervised hours. This minimal training is problematic to Evans.

    Credit: @PaulMorsePhoto - Office of George H. W. Bush

    "If you don't know what your actual role is as a recovery coach, like, what are you doing? What are you saying? How are you saying it? You could say something detrimental to them," said Evans.

    Experts have argued that recovery coaches are an essential part of battling the opioid crisis, along with doctors and medical professionals.

    "Today, we will lose seven people across the state of Massachusetts ultimately to a disease that's treatable," said Sarah Wakeman, director of Massachusetts General Hospital's substance use disorder initiative.

    Wakeman sees people fight for their lives after overdosing every day.

    "With a recovery coach, they are less likely to be hospitalized and they are more likely to engage in primary care and outpatient behavioral care," said Wakeman.

    Evans said even after the certification is in hand, that's when the hard work has just begun, and it isn't for everyone.

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    "Everyone thinks they can be a recovery coach, but then when it comes time for the rubber to meet the road, we see whose heart is really in it," said Evans.

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