State program trains recovered addicts to mentor peers

Community Reports

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – In a state that struggles with substance abuse, depression, and high suicide rates, words like addiction, and mental health often have negative stigmas. However, there’s a lesser-known initiative helping New Mexicans find the path to recovery.

“Our lived experience is so important, and nobody understands us better than somebody who has gone through what we have gone through.”

Melisha Montano, OPRE Program Manager

They’re called Certified Peer Support Workers. The state Office of Peer Recovery and Engagement works to train people who’ve gone through a recovery process themselves, to help others get back on track. To apply workers are required to have two years of sobriety or mental health wellness.

From drug and alcohol abuse to depression, peer workers say having someone to talk to who can just say “me too”, makes all the difference on the road to recovery.

Office of Peer Recovery and Engagement

Training to become a peer support worker happens six times a year. Then those with certifications apply for jobs through medical providers who offer medicare. Some employers with CPSWs include Western Sky, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Presbyterian, Turning Point, Serenity Mesa, and Duke City Recovery Tool Box.

The program is funded through the state’s Behavioral Health Services department, as an alternative way of helping people who suffer from addiction or who are on mandated probation.

“Better members of society is what we strive to be.”

Melisha Montano, OPRE Program Manager

In fact, OPRE just recently certified a group of peer workers from inside the Los Lunas penitentiary, setting up inmates for jobs in recovery work after their release.

“Just a simple smile, lending a hand out to somebody that is down, builds us up.”

Melisha Montano, OPRE Program Manager

Peer Support Workers help others learn to manage stress, listen to their bodies, and even fill out job applications. They’re there to be the hand up out of a situation that otherwise may seem inescapable.

Workers we spoke with say they’re trying to change the stigma surrounding recovered addicts by setting a positive example and helping those in recovery feel welcome and understood.

In order to adequately enhance and grow the peer support network, OPRE will temporarily suspend the CPSW training application process. This will allow OPRE to focus on increasing the quality of training to support those who wish to become CPSWs, and to focus on job readiness for the peers who have already been trained. On Feb 1, 2020, the state will lift the suspension and notify the public.

To learn more about OPRE or becoming a Certified Peer Support Worker, click here.

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