Report on recovery coaches yields promising results, policy recommendations

January 22, 2019

RIZE Massachusetts (RIZE) released a report today by the University of Massachusetts Medical School’s Commonwealth Medicine division on recovery coaches, a peer support professional used in treatment for individuals with opioid use disorder (OUD). The report was commissioned to study the effectiveness of recovery coaches, define and examine their role in treatment, and understand current payment methods. The paper and policy recommendations will be presented on January 23rd to the Recovery Coach Commission established by Governor Charles D. Baker. 

“Recovery coaches are already being used in OUD treatment, but there was little research about their effectiveness,” said Julie Burns, RIZE executive director. “RIZE funded this report to fully understand the role recovery coaches play in helping people through treatment, make recommendations based on these findings, and inform policymakers, providers, and payers.” 

The report summarizes the literature on effectiveness of recovery coaches, outlines certification requirements in 48 states and the District of Columbia with a custom search tool, and examines funding sources. A cost estimator tool accompanies the report to show likely expenses and return on investment. 

Additionally, ten organizations using recovery coaches and their approaches were studied. The specifics of recovery coach responsibilities and roles varied; they work in health care and community settings, ranging from hospitals and treatment centers to police departments. The research found some common approaches, including supporting different recovery paths determined by individuals in treatment, recovery coaches engaging and communicating their personal and lived experiences, and prioritizing self-care. 

“Our research showed that recovery coaches have a remarkable ability to engage individuals with addiction at the most hopeless point in their lives and help them to take the first step toward recovery,” said Katharine London, MS, Principal of Health Law & Policy at Commonwealth Medicine. “That discovery, and the rest of our findings, led to the development of policy recommendations the Commonwealth can implement to support the essential work of recovery coaches in OUD care.” 

Policy recommendations for recovery coach programs include: 

• Prioritizing lived-experience 

• Incorporating self-care 

• Supporting workforce development, including training, certification, and career advancement 

• Providing a sustainable funding mechanism 

• Establishing a state-sponsored certification process 

• Establishing data collection tools and supporting evaluation of effectiveness 

To stabilize payment methodologies, the researchers recommend insurers allow for flexible funding mechanisms to cover different services. Most programs are funded by grants or donations, with some support coming from public and private insurers or individuals that self-pay. Lack of consistent funding affects a program’s ability to offer recovery coach services. 

Recovery coaches serve as a resource for individuals with substance use disorder by navigating treatment and recovery, providing encouragement, and building connections to community and services. With the recommendations from this report, these interventions could be further measured and maximized for effectiveness, engaging more people with OUD in treatment and recovery. 

"Recovery coaches are on the front-line delivering lifesaving services to people seeking or in recovery from substance use disorders. In order to do their work effectively, they deserve a system that supports certification, adequate payment methods, supervision and support, and the required trainings to meet quality standards" said Haner Hernandez, PhD, CPS, CADCII, LADCI. 

RIZE Massachusetts is an independent nonprofit foundation committed to achieving zero stigma and zero deaths related to opioid use disorder by investing in meaningful solutions and engaging broad perspective that will save lives, reduce harm, and end the opioid epidemic in Massachusetts. 

Commonwealth Medicine is the health care consulting and operations division of the University of Massachusetts Medical School with a focus on helping government agencies, nonprofits, and managed care organizations accomplish their missions by offering solutions on clinical, policy and financial challenges. 

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