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Calls for Change in Addiction Help Amid Overdose Crisis

Calls for Change in Addiction Help Amid Overdose CrisisTen years ago, Susan Nayamora sat in Broward County Jail facing prison time after she violated probation for the fourth time. “I was slowly killing myself,” said Nayamora about her drug abuse. “I sat there for four weeks and I was told that I was pretty much looking at a minimum of five years in prison because my behavior had not changed.”

She also received some unexpected news – Nayamora was four-and-half weeks pregnant with her fifth child.
This time, Nayamora got clean and began to work through the system until she found a new career as a certified peer support specialist.

Nayamora is the CEO and president of South Florida Wellness Network, a non-profit organization in Broward County that employs and trains certified peer support specialists.
“Peer support is part of the human connection,” Nyamora said. “It’s your own personal experience living through the disease of addiction or mental health challenges.”

Recovering from substance abuse could be a difficult journey with the risk of relapsing at any moment, if no support system is there.
Peer support providers’ own addiction is a prerequisite for the job. They have a vital role in helping people in recovery stay sober because they know the struggles of addiction too well. They understand the daily battle of addiction and know how to navigate the system.

This has not gone unnoticed. In recent years, 38 states have created programs to train and certify people with “lived experience who have initiated their recovery journey and are willing to assist others who are in earlier stages of the recovery process,” according to a 2014 national overview conducted by The Center for Social Work Research.

The growing heroin crisis in South Florida is devastating families and communities. In Miami-Dade County, three deaths relating to heroin use are reported every day, according to the medical examiner’s office. In Broward County, Carfentanil, an elephant tranquilizer often added to heroin, has been tied to 53 deaths this year.

As law enforcement and health organizations try to find some solutions to this growing problem, peer support specialists offer that needed support to those struggling with substance abuse to stay sober.

But the certification process to work on this job is filled with hurdles for anybody who had any run-ins with the law. Those applying for certification have to be three years removed from certain crimes. That means no felonies and first-degree misdemeanors and release from any court-ordered sanctions or supervision in the three years prior to application.

Nyamora thinks that’s too long. “I think the timeline should be less,” she said. “I also think the process should go smoother and quicker because the process is not easy.”
People can appeal and be approved but Nyamora says the time it takes is another problem.

“We lost tons of amazing people who could have really benefited this community,” she said. “Because you know people have lives and bills to pay and many of these people are single parents or people at different socio-economic status.”

A strong support system present in their lives is what has helped Heather and Brian to stay sober. The couple was on a destructive path over a year ago – back on drugs.

“It’s sad to say but I loved the drugs more than I loved my kids at that point,” said Heather, 26.

The couple, both from Philadelphia, met in South Florida while trying to get clean at a drug rehab. Since then, they’ve had relapsed once again as they found out that they were expecting their second child. It took a scholarship from Reawakenings in Miramar to help them overcome their drug addiction and get the support they needed.

“We decided to stay down here because this is where our support system is,” Heather said.

Mark Fontaine understands that people in recovery from substance abuse could have a crucial role at a time that is needed in Florida. That’s why Fontaine, executive director of the Florida Alcohol and Drug Abuse Association, is part of an effort to ask state legislators to change the current rules. “We are talking about putting a bill together for this,” Fontaine said. “The question is how long and difficult you want to make it for people.” Fontaine agrees the current system, including the appeals process, is time-consuming and cumbersome.

“We need to use every tool on the box to address addiction issues,” Fontaine said.
Don Maines knows this battle too well. “Addiction is a disease of the brain,” Maines said. Maines, a recovering alcoholic, has been working in the substance abuse field for almost 30 years. And that means fighting the stigma that comes with substance abuse and mental illnesses. Maines, a special advisor for substance abuse research for the Broward Sheriff’s Office, says the rule is unfair and it disqualifies good candidates. “They are trying to help people, why don’t you give them a chance?” Maines questioned. (Ticker Symbol: TLIF) CEO, Tyler Cornell congratulated Heather Nyamora and went on to say, “As the epidemic grows, it is more important to have more people involved.  Although accountability for employees is greatly needed, we need to remember that this industry was started over 80 years ago simply by having peer support groups help each other.”

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