When it comes to substance use disorder, it’s easy to focus on the negative. You’ve seen the headlines. Every day, more than 115 Americans die after overdosing on opioids. Nearly 21 million Americans have a substance use problem. And more than 30 million Americans suffer from an eating disorder. And, of course, the cost of abuse goes beyond the headlines. It is likely that you or someone in your extended family has suffered from the harmful effects of addiction.
But this story is not about substance use disorder, addiction, and destruction. This is a story about recovery. There are 23.5 million American adults who are overcoming a problematic involvement with drugs or alcohol. While recovery can be an uneven path, it can also be an inspirational, heroic journey. Those who take on the task of recovery need all the support that they can get.
One lesser known but highly effective roles in the recovery movement is the peer support specialist. According to Melissa Kjolsing Lynch of Recovree, “A peer support specialist is a certified behavioral health professional who is using their lived experience with substance use disorder to help other people find recovery.”
Peer specialists are not prescriptive in their journey. Melissa says “They’re not looking at a specific pathway. They’re open to all recovery pathways, whether that be a 12-step program, something more spiritually-based, or SMART Recovery. It’s all about walking side-by-side. These people are the untapped potential, and the glue that can help people stay more engaged in their health and wellness.”
Peer support specialists go through more than 40 hours of classroom training, as well as hands-on training. Treatment programs typically employ them.
Recovree has developed software for peer support specialists, the fastest-growing service for people in recovery. Their software helps peer support specialists to track workflow, track time, and log notes. This helps peer support specialists to stay more engaged with the people they are serving.
The person in recovery has an app that they use to log daily reflections and to catalog what they are doing for their recovery, health, and wellness. The information captured in the daily reflection is shared with the peer specialist. The peer specialist can access a web-based portal to see the journals that the clients are submitting. This might help the peer specialist to anticipate the resources and skills needed by the person in recovery.
“This is about engagement,” Melissa explains. “We see that more people can find recovery and stay in the community if the peer specialist is on hand.” When people are more engaged in their treatment, they are much more likely to have better outcomes. Peer support specialists reduce costs on the system. They improve medication adherence. They reduce hospital admission rates.This is Personal
Melissa’s journey to Recovree started almost two years ago when her brother Luke was in a treatment facility. “2016 was a tough year for me, for a variety of reasons,” Melissa says. “My brother’s disease was at its peak. He was at the verge of death. It was incredibly difficult to watch him go through this.”
Melissa and Luke were close as children. But as his disease progressed from high school through his 20s, they became distant from one another. “But once he was in a place where he could get help,” Melissa explains, “something clicked. When I saw him in his in-patient program, I said, ‘This is someone I want to help.’”
Through Luke, Melissa saw the treatment system. “I began to understand that this is a chronic disease. This was something he was going to need to manage for the rest of his life.” Melissa was shocked to see the lack of follow-up care. Luke was given a folder of resources and was encouraged to find a sponsor. “I was like, that’s it? You would never do that with someone who was just diagnosed with diabetes. You would never do that with somebody who has hypertension.”
Luke moved to Minnesota to complete an out-patient program. “That’s when we started connecting once a week. And we just started wrestling with this problem.” Luke and Melissa began to meet with other people who were in recovery. “We discovered that tools are absent out there.”
“All of these people we were connecting with, we heard themes. They were supposed to be journaling and looking at what was happening in their recovery. Those first few days are so important, and they’re so difficult.” Melissa and Luke found that almost everyone they talked to said that they don’t journal.
So, in March 2017 they came up with a minimum viable product (MVP) using Google forms that asked them a series of questions.
“Within a Google form, when you click through, on the other side, you can see graphs. They all liked that” 80% of those Melissa and Luke worked with journaled consistently for two weeks. They all reported that journaling had helped them in their recovery. They all said that they would continue to use the system.
Melissa and Luke decided to make a more polished version of their solution. At the time, Melissa was the Director of the Minnesota Cup (MN Cup), the largest statewide startup competition in the country. Through her work at MN Cup, she was familiar with Prime Digital Academy. Prime Digital Academy teaches people how to code. “As a capstone project, they’re always looking to work with nonprofits and startups on prototypes,” Melissa says. “We presented our findings to them and said, ‘This is what we’re looking for.’” By June 2017, Prime came up with a prototype.
Melissa and Luke began to think about a business model to sustain their solution. “We came from the perspective of; we have engagement. Now, how do we set up a business around it? Over the next couple of months, we spoke with anyone who would take a meeting with us.” It was through these meetings that they decided to focus on peer specialists.
In August 2017, Melissa and Luke were invited to present their solution to a meeting of treatment program leaders. Melissa offered a free 30-day trial of their new platform, Recovree to the treatment programs. “There are treatment programs who are trying to distinguish themselves by being more innovative.”
From that meeting, two treatment programs, one rural and urban, volunteered to try Recovree. They tested in November 2017. The pilot programs went well. With this experience, Melissa created a business model and began sharing their experience with angel investors. By April 2018, they received their first funding. By August 2018, the system went live.
And, in a full-circle moment, Recovree represented the Impact Division at this year’s Minnesota Cup Final Awards Event and won the Top Woman-Led Startup award.Social Entrepreneurship Quotes from Melissa Kjolsing Lynch:
“It’s all about walking side-by-side.” @mkjolsing @Recovree
“Because they’re in the behavioral health field, they cover every aspect of both chemical and mental health.” @mkjolsing @Recovree
“The VA is one of the largest employers of peer specialists for PTSD.” @mkjolsing @Recovree
“There’s a lot that goes on between those meetings.” @mkjolsing @Recovree
“This is about engagement.” @mkjolsing @Recovree
“We see peer specialists as this glue and untapped resource in the behavioral health field.” @mkjolsing @Recovree
“The things the peer specialists are doing need to be amplified.” @mkjolsing @Recovree
“We want these peers to feel confident, efficient, and effective in their roles.” @mkjolsing @Recovree
“The value proposition is in working with the treatment centers.” @mkjolsing @Recovree
“This is incredibly personal for me.” @mkjolsing @Recovree
“2016 was a really tough year for a variety of reasons.” @mkjolsing @Recovree
“We just started wrestling with this problem.” @mkjolsing @Recovree
“We discovered that there is an absence of tools out there.” @mkjolsing @Recovree
“Those first few days of recovery are so important, and they’re so difficult.” @mkjolsing @Recovree
“We had never heard of a peer specialist.” @mkjolsing @Recovree
“This is something that takes months and years, not days and weeks.” @mkjolsing @RecovreeSocial Entrepreneurship Resources:
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