With the expanding use of naloxone, the live saving drug that can often reverse the symptoms of an opioid, thousands of lives are saved every year. But what happens after an opiate overdose is reversed by naloxone? Many emergency rooms will simply discharge the addict once they’re considered stable. Sometimes there will be a recommendation for counseling or treatment, but that’s usually the only suggestion. However, that approach is starting to change in hospitals across the nation.

In Rhode Island, the government turns to paid coaches to talk to people who wake up in the emergency room from an overdose. These coaches, usually with many years completely clean and sober, offer their help to help be a lifeline for addicts. They are required to keep their own affairs in order and participate in their own recovery as well as their peer’s lives.

Peer recovery coaches give the addict their phone number and follow up, taking them to meetings and giving them guidance in staying clean. The paid role is remarkably similar to the model of an Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor. It’s often the first lifeline the addict has when they’re seeking recovery.

In New Jersey, any person who has been administered Narcan to fight an overdose must be cleared by the emergency room. The police department and medical professional partner with an organization called City of Angels. Their peer recovery coaches offer addicts the chance to have a recovery coach in their lives after overdoses, arrest, and under other circumstances where the police intervene. Social services agencies have also been experimenting with peer coaching programs. They are quick to point out, however,  that their clients receive other addiction services as well.

Critics point out that there is no fact-based evidence of better outcomes with peer coaching or counseling. In fact, some of the peers who participate may have trouble balancing the responsibility of their own recovery in addition to another’s. There are also other things that need to be addressed in a recovering addict’s life. They may need inpatient mental health services to have a successful long-term outcome. Many people with addiction issues have a history of trauma that must be dealt with, and peers are not equipped to help each other with PTSD or other disorders.

Peer coaching or counseling is a good way to fill the gap between a life event and treatment, but it’s not a substitute for an assessment and treatment plan from a qualified professional. That’s often the key to long-term success. The government needs to find more long-term options.