Words of support, encouragement and advice — or even just a sympathetic ear — are invaluable to those confronting the demon of drug addiction. Connection with another human being, particularly one who shares personal experience in the struggle, can be a vital lifeline.
Hospitals and other health care facilities that treat addicts realize as much. A growing number now staff emergency rooms and treatment centers with coaches meant to help address the physical aspects of addiction, as well as the psychological and emotional elements. These “recovery coaches” are important resources for individuals. More broadly, they are key players in addressing the scourge of heroin and opioid abuse that has touched untold lives in our region.
Yet, it’s important that people who offer these services to addicts, their families and friends be trained and certified for that work — just as other medical professionals and counselors are credentialed for their practices. Gov. Charlie Baker has offered a plan to that effect, building upon a voluntary certification process already in place. It should be endorsed and quickly implemented.
Though some worry that creating a certification system will create a barrier for would-be coaches, particularly former addicts who sometimes are the best in class, the fear is more than outweighed by the danger of exposing vulnerable people to others who, while well intentioned, may not be prepared to handle the responsibility.
In a package of legislation meant to strengthen the state’s response to the opioid problem, Baker proposes a commission to create a process to formalize the role of these coaches. A former health care executive, Baker says he doesn’t mean to regulate recovery coaches for the sake of it but rather to legitimize and encourage their use. Clearing a path for certification enhances the likelihood that insurers that currently don’t cover these services will do so.
Baker shows he understands of the power of a coach role in addressing addiction — particularly over the long haul.
“One of the biggest problems we have right now is that people detox, and then they’re kind of on their own for everything that happens after that,” Baker said. “In the long run, that’s never going to solve this problem.”
Baker’s approach to credentialing coaches mirrors his plan for drug treatment facilities.
He supports recently filed legislation that would require those centers to prove they meet certain standards of care. The idea is to create a licensing process that will ensure quality among these drug- and alcohol-free environments. Doing so, Baker has suggested, also will help identify bona fide operations for the families and friends of addicts, while legitimizing centers in hopes that insurers will pay for their services.
Again, a certification process for treatment centers already exists. But it, too, is voluntary. About 160 such facilities have the state's certification, but there are more than 200 now operating in Massachusetts.
To be certain, there are health care providers who can be trusted to vet recovery coaches and demand they meet a certain level of professionalism before they're assigned to work a case. The Department of Public Health’s Bureau of Substance Abuse Service also offers a week-long “academy” for would-be coaches, preparing them for hospitals and other treatment environments. Through the years about 1,000 coaches have been through the "academy," along with about 200 supervisors, Statehouse reporter Christian Wade reports.
Yet, to date, just 18 people have completed a certification also offered by the state for recovery coaches. It includes additional training, as well as 500 hours of supervised coaching experience. Beginning next year, those who want that certification will be required to pass a test, as well.
Perhaps the basic credential for a recovery coach shouldn't require a program that rigorous. Still, any effort to license those working in this area will serve an array of people, from addicts to those who care about them and love them to members of the community whose lives are touched by their addiction, even if indirectly.
Hopefully lawmakers will act quickly to allow Baker to impanel a commission that can explore extending that stamp of legitimacy and credibility to the people already doing important work in this area, as well as others who might yet enter it.