Arkansas Behavioral Health Integration Network has been awarded a $300,000 grant through the Health Resources and Services Agency to support The Arkansas Rural Opioid Use Team Education Overdose Response (A-ROUTE-OR) project. The program will enhance the capabilities of ten emergency departments (EDs) and primary care clinics in North Arkansas through a training initiative that connects rural healthcare organizations with peer recovery support specialists (PRS). The program will include a virtual training curriculum provided by physician, peer, and behavioral health trainers across the state. The training is designed to create shared understanding of the PRS role and develop a foundation for embedding PRS within the healthcare setting as a core overdose response strategy. Afterward completion of the collaborative learning sessions, PRS will be funded to work part-time in healthcare settings for five months. Together, PRS and healthcare staff provide training to non-peer ED/clinic staff and develop plans that optimize workflows to integrate peer services into their overdose response programs.

In 2021, 628 individuals in Arkansas died from a drug overdose, an increase of more than 16% compared to 2020. Project Director, Kim Shuler, LCSW said, “Evidence is showing us that emergency departments and primary care clinics can both play a significant role in reducing overdoses and death. For example, patients admitted to the ED for an overdose are at greatly elevated risk for experiencing another nonfatal overdose or an overdose death. Peer Recovery Support Specialists are proving to be an integral part of the care team treating SUD and responding to overdoses in ED settings.” Shuler went on to say, “Arkansas has developed a model PRS credentialing program, that is a critical resource for the state, especially for rural areas that face significant barriers to the limited services available.” However, only four EDs in the state have incorporated PRS into SUD and overdose response workflows. The AROUTE-OR project will leverage the power of peer work in responding to overdoses and preventing additional overdoses from happening by connecting patients with people who have lived experience with recovery. The grant will serve 22 counties across North Arkansas that are economically depressed, have a high prevalence of opioid use disorders (OUD), and have few services to identify or help people who are struggling with OUD.