BALTIMORE (WJZ) — In the midst of the opioid epidemic, peer recovery coach programs are being implemented in hospitals nationwide.

Ascension Saint Agnes Health Institute was one of the first hospitals in Maryland to launch a Screening, Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment in March 2018, to help those facing substance abuse disorder.

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SBIRT is an evidence-based practice used to identify, reduce and prevent problematic use, abuse and dependence on alcohol and illicit drugs.

A different characteristic of this approach is the use of peer recovery coaches. The coaches are recovering addicts with at least two years of sobriety that are actively connected to support networks and have gone through extensive training.

Rodney James is one of three peer recovery coaches at Saint Agnes.

“A lot of people come in here and they don’t know the next step, they don’t know where they’re going to go from here and I just want to let them know that there is a chance and there is hope.” James said.

Ascension Saint Agnes Health Institute serves the southwest region of Baltimore City and its surrounding counties, making it the second busiest emergency department in Maryland.

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“We see about 5,500 patients a month, maybe about 300… maybe about 200 patients a day,” said Cassandra Dobbs, a social worker at Ascension Saint Agnes.

Coaches conduct up to 15 interventions on an average day.

Here’s how it works. Once a patient is admitted into the emergency room, even if it’s just for flu-like symptoms, they’re screened to determine whether or not they’re at risk for substance abuse disorder. If a patient tests positive, a peer recovery coach is called in.

“When we go in to see a patient, the patient sees themselves because sometimes we have to explain to the patient, I’m just where you are, I have used and I have been addicted to this substance as well… and once they see you, they see the evidence that there’s change that can be made.” James said.

Hospital leaders say the support of someone who has been down the path before serving as a mentor can make all the difference in helping find a road to recovery.

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Since the launch of the SBIRT program at Saint Agnes, approximately 3,500 patients have been screened positively for a substance use disorder and Peer Recovery Coaches have been able to successfully complete 1,600 brief interventions.