Recovery Coaches can assist a person with finding their pathway to recovery
Original Source: greenvilleonline.com
The first time Jennifer Seymour saw Hubert Yarborough was in the ER as she was recovering from a near-fatal heroin overdose.
It was a chilly day in January and Seymour had unwittingly injected a bad dose of fentanyl-laced heroin into her arm on the way to work and lost consciousness.
Her terrified friend, who was driving, rushed the 30-year-old to the hospital, where doctors gave her the naloxone that saved her life.
As she lay there coming to grips with the idea that she had almost died, a nurse asked if she’d like to talk to someone from FAVOR. “What’s that?” she thought.
“I was like, whatever,” she recalls.
But soon, a fair-haired stranger was smiling at her.
He got her a Gatorade and a blanket. He told her he was there not as a clinician, but as a friend. To maybe help her get into recovery.
Ready to help
Blinking through the drug-induced haze and wracked by withdrawal symptoms, Seymour didn’t fully grasp what was happening.
And as soon as she left the hospital, she went in search of her next fix.
But over the next few weeks, Yarborough’s name kept appearing on her phone. He was still reaching out to let her know he was ready to help.
She didn’t respond.
“I felt like … it was just reminding me that I wasn’t living right. I wasn’t doing right,” she said. “And he was always asking me about going to meetings and I wasn’t ready for all that.”
But then one day, she texted back.
“She said, ‘I think I want to meet,’ ” Yarborough said.
It was a meeting that would change her life.
Yarborough is coordinator of a new recovery coach program for Faces And Voices of Recovery, or FAVOR, Greenville.
And persistence is the key to its success, said executive director Rich Jones.
After an overdose, patients typically leave the hospital, often to return again, with few getting into recovery, he said.
What’s worse, 15 percent of them will die within a year from another overdose.
So FAVOR assembled a team of five state-certified coaches who’ve been through recovery themselves and are on call 24/7 to meet survivors in the ER with a goal of helping them get clean and prevent another possibly fatal overdose.
“As soon as somebody shows up, the hospital staff contacts us and our staff meets with the person,” Jones said. “But most folks don’t initially agree. So we keep trying and encouraging, even in the face of what appears to be resistance early on.”
The recovery coach is there for the long haul, he said, calling these survivors, texting them, knocking on their doors, talking to their parents.
Whatever it takes to convince them to get help
Since the project started on Jan. 8 at Greenville Memorial, the team has responded to an average of about 10 overdoses a week.
And as of July 29, 109 clients had been enrolled, Yarborough said.
Some 96 percent agreed to recovery support; 85 percent were linked to a 12-step program, inpatient rehabilitation or other form of treatment; 72 percent continue with FAVOR; and only 8.5 percent returned to a hospital for any reason.
There was one fatal overdose.
As a nonprofit that promotes long-term recovery, FAVOR survives on donations from foundations, corporations and individuals, Jones said. It was able to launch this program with a $200,000 grant from the state Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services.
And Sara Goldsby, director of the agency, said it’s been so successful that it’s hoped it can be replicated elsewhere around the state.
Hope and possibility
“We knew that it was a really strategic program to fund because … the folks who come into the ER with an overdose or opiate issue of any kind often don’t get directed to outpatient services or follow-up care,” she said.
“We had a strong hunch this would be successful because FAVOR Greenville is such a strong organization,” she added. “And they’ve demonstrated some fabulous results.”
Along with helping people into recovery, having peer support coaches doing follow-up with patients is cost-effective, Goldsby said.
“Evidence-based practice is to keep (these patients) in outpatient … services even after a risky episode,” she said. “And having that direct link to people who have had the same past, who can walk with them through this, is a tremendous cost savings.”
“It’s an amazing program,” said Dr. Karen Lommel, chief medical officer for behavioral health at Greenville Health System.
“They have offered a solution to a problem we have been trying to address, but not really having all the tools,” she said. “It raises a lot of excitement.”
Organizers are in the process of rolling the program out in other GHS hospitals, and at other hospitals in the region as well, she said.
Seymour was a 15-year-old Travelers Rest High School student when she first started using drugs as a way, she thought then, to have fun and be cool.
“It started out with weed and just progressed … to harder drugs,” she said. “Then it became a lifestyle and I couldn’t get out of it.”
After her mom passed away, she started using heroin. She was just 21 at the time.
Four years later, she was using “all day, every day,” and had a $200-a-day habit that she supported by stealing.
“I got into a lot of trouble,” she confessed. “I was in and out of prison.”
Trapped in a cycle
The January day she overdosed, Seymour had stopped to buy some heroin on the way to her restaurant job. When she woke up in the ER, she realized that she’d gotten hold of some bad stuff.
“I’d heard people talk about OD-ing,” she said, “but I never thought it would happen to me.”
So although she was scared, she didn’t answer Yarborough’s calls at first because she thought she would be judged.
She was tired of the drugs and the way she was living. But she just didn’t know how to do anything else.
Offering a lifeline
Part of FAVOR’s success, Goldsby said, is its ongoing effort to break down the shame and stigma of addiction.
“We’ve observed that Greenville itself has really embraced recovery, and people in Greenville embrace FAVOR,” she said. “They accept that there’s hope and possibility in recovery.”
Jones said it begins with a different way of thinking about addiction because no one sets out to become addicted.
“We give people the benefit of the doubt and quit operating with the idea that they’re belligerent, addicted people who don’t want help so just let them suffer the consequences,” he said.
“We believe this is where you can really start connecting with folks … and turn them around.”
That was the case with Seymour. By refusing to give up on her, Yarborough offered her the lifeline she needed.
“I wanted to change. And now I had somebody who did it themselves and wanted to help me,” she said. “I guess I felt like I was worth it.”
Frightened and isolated
Yarborough is a recovering alcoholic himself. He’s been sober for five years.
Along with AA, he found friends and support at FAVOR.
“You come from such a dark place,” he said, “and all of a sudden there’s light.”
With a background as a mental health counselor, he trained to become a state-certified peer support specialist after joining FAVOR to help others.
Day or night, he arrives at the hospital within 30 minutes of getting a call about someone who’s overdosed.
Eight out of 10 have overdosed on heroin or a mix of heroin and fentanyl, he said. The rest have overdosed on oxycodone, Percocet or some other opiate.
He knows how sick they feel physically. And how frightened and isolated they are. He tries to make them feel as comfortable as possible.
“I let them know that I’m not a doctor, not a clinician, but a certified peer support specialist, which is a fancy way to say I’m also in recovery and … I know it hurts inside and out,” he said.
Options for help
“I tell them, ‘I’m your advocate. I’m here to hold your hand and you can share with me whatever you want to and it’s in complete confidence,’ ” he added. “And it’s like the wall collapses between the two of us. I see the body language change and they let down their guard.”
He asks about their lives, their drug of choice, how they got to the ER. He gives them options for help and assures them that he’ll walk through the recovery process with them.
“Sometimes it’s dodgy,” he said. “But recovery is planted in their head.”
More often than not, given the circumstances, he doesn’t hear from them for weeks.
But he keeps trying to reach them. And eventually, he said, he’ll get a text asking for help.
“That’s why it’s so important that we stay engaged,” he said. “Keep texting and calling.”
Even after they’re in recovery, he’ll meet them for coffee or pick up some sandwiches and go to the park to talk.
A brighter future
After Yarborough heard from Seymour, he helped her get into an inpatient program in Columbia where she stopped using heroin.
He visited her there, and when she was released a month later, he found her a sober living house in Greenville with others in recovery who’ve become like family to her.
She got a Narcotics Anonymous sponsor and started going to meetings.
Her life began to turn around. And she credits Yarborough.
“I’d been tired of that life, but I just didn’t know how to do anything different,” she said. “Somebody else saw that and wanted to help save me.
“I know I couldn’t have done it without him.”
Now clean for six months, Seymour said she finally feels free of the chaos. She’s started a new job and is looking to a brighter future.
She wants to stay clean, build her life, get married and have children one day, and even pay if forward by helping others like herself.
“I was beginning to think my life was going to be rough and hard and miserable,” she said, dissolving into tears.
“But I’m happy. I’m real happy. Even on those days when I don’t feel real good, it’s so much better than where I was at.”
To learn more, go to https://favorgreenville.org/ or call 864-385-7757.