Like many struggling states, Wisconsin is seeing more overdoses during the pandemic than it had for years. It was so bad that the rates doubled during the first six months of the pandemic. People were reeling, and the hospitals knew they needed to intervene and reach out to people at their low point. So they decided to offer addiction services through a nonprofit called Wisconsin Voices for Recovery into the ER and allow peer recovery specialists to provide their support to people in need of assistance and hope.

Wisconsin’s Peer Intervention Program is Crucial

While the program has already been in motion for a year or so, the need was crucial during those first few months of the pandemic, when isolation began to take its toll on people.

David Spannagel, director of the RT at Aspirus Divine Savior hospital, says he had to keep those services available despite the pandemic. He views peer support specialists as an essential part of public health.

Twenty-four hospitals that partner with Wisconsin Voices for Recovery continued to allow peer support specialists into the hospitals to help people get the support they needed after an overdose. For many, having somebody who understands what they are going through is crucial.

Deploying Help for People in Wisonsin Who Need It

Peer recovery specialists are on-call for recovery resources. When a person overdoses and enters the ER, they are stabilized and asked by staff if they would like to meet a peer support specialist. The specialists come prepared with literature about treatment options and 12-step meetings. They also come armed with their own experience. After all, they are usually people with a year or sober in recovery. Many of them are people who once went to the ER in Wisconsin as well.

Spannagel said most people accept the help. But even if they don’t call a hotline number or go to a 12-step meeting, a seed has been planted. They at least know that help is available when they are ready to get it. And that in itself is valuable and affirming for a person struggling with addiction.