10 Make History as First Peer Supervisors in Arkansas

Peer Recovery in Arkansas continues to soar to historic heights as 10 veteran Peer Recovery Specialists have been promoted to supervisor positions. Jimmy McGill, State Opioid Response Coordinator and the state’s first Peer Recovery Specialist, said the Arkansas model’s success has been so successful that other states have been taking notice, even replicating this model.

“Our supervision model has been complete less than 6 months and we’ve already shared the model with a dozen other states,” he said. “They want to follow our lead and develop similar programs. Our supervision curriculum is so detailed and thorough, and the reason this is so vital is – there has never before, in the history of workforce, been a job [created] that was based off lived experience.”

What is a Peer Recovery Specialist and what is their value to Arkansas? McGill explained that they are people with “direct lived experience with substance use, addiction and recovery and/or mental health recovery.” But in order to become a Peer Recovery Specialist, the person must have a minimum of 2-years of sustainable recovery (non-substance use) to be eligible to go into Peer Support training. After passing the training program, there is a minimum of 500 hours of workforce experience providing peer support. McGill said that during the training and workforce hours, “they are learning how to provide services, how to behave ethically, about our core competencies, our scope of practice, our core values, and fundamental beliefs that built the movement that now has America on fire.”

“You can’t disregard lived experienced, because everything learned about addiction was from our lived experience and because we allowed them to study us,” McGill said. “With a Peer Recovery Specialist, you get a passion for treatment and recovery that cannot be taught, bought or replicated. When a person in the addiction cycle meets with a Peer Recovery Specialist, they instantly identify and relate with each other.”

He added, “People in treatment and recovery programs are usually afraid to get honest because they don’t want to feel judged or maybe they will feel that someone is being condescending to them. With a Peer Recovery Specialist, the fear is immediately removed. Relatable equals transparency, and that is the key toward sustained recovery. That is also not saying that clinicians aren’t important because as a Peer Recovery Specialist, we’re not operating in a primary role as a clinician, but the two working alongside each other, that’s the dynamic duo.”

The Peer Recovery Specialists are certified by the Arkansas Substance Abuse Certification Board, which is recognized by the Office of Arkansas Drug Director; Arkansas Alcohol and Drug Abuse Coordinating Council; the Department of Human Services’ Division of Aging, Adult and Behavioral Health Services; and the University of Arkansas-Little Rock MidSouth School for Prevention and Social Work. There are currently 350 state certified Peer Recovery Specialists in Arkansas.

McGill said it was the leadership of Arkansas Drug Director Kirk Lane and Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson who saw the value of Peer Recovery and lead the way to the development of the Arkansas Peer Recovery Model. In fact, it was both Lane and Gov. Hutchinson who signed off on hiring McGill and other people with criminal histories, including felony records, to state positions as Peer Recovery Specialists. That historic, unprecedented leap of faith from these Arkansas leaders have saved and changed limitless number of lives. And think of how much this program has lowered crime in communities because those who often committed crimes due to substance addiction are now sober and giving back to their communities, McGill said.

“They not only saw the value of Peer Recovery Specialists, they worked with us and encouraged the model to what it is today,” he said. “The first thing we learned when we developed the Arkansas Model for Peers is that without something for Peers to work toward, a place for growth, they would burn out and find a different career. Under the leadership of our Drug Director, we developed a model that would ensure the peers have something to achieve, and the higher the climb the career ladder that also includes a wage increase.”

In the Arkansas model after a person earns certification as a Peer Recovery Specialist the next level is the Advanced Peer Recovery. In order to attain that certification, the specialist must have an additional 500 hours of workforce experience providing peer support and pass a 75-question test. That certification is only recognized in Arkansas, McGill explained.

“If you want to further your career even more, you have the option to go through the supervision model, which that credential would be a Peer Recovery Peer Supervisor,” McGill said. “That requires more tests, more training, more peer support service hours, and then you interview with A.P.A.C.T. (Arkansas Peer Advisory Committee) – a committee of seasoned peer specialists who are evaluating the candidates; they also consult with the Peer Recovery Coordinator at the Department of Human Services’ Division of Aging, Adult and Behavioral Health Services.

“And they don’t make it easy,” McGill said with a laugh. “Not everyone can do it. You might be an amazing Peer Recovery Specialist, but maybe not so much for a supervisor position. These are the best of the best Peer Recovery Specialists.”

The first 10 Peer Recovery Peer Supervisors in Arkansas are: Jimmy McGill, Lester “Les” Cupp (the second Peer Recovery Specialist in Arkansas), Bonnie Stribling, Teresa Apple, Gary Wade Carter, Gary McDougal, Misty Evans, Edward “Monte” Payne, Kyle Brewer, and Casey Copeland.