Manatee program will hire recovering addicts to help those struggling with heroin

One of the first of its kind in Tampa Bay

MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — Florida Governor Rick Scott has just earmarked $500,000 to start a Manatee County program that will be one of the first of its kind in the Tampa Bay area.

It’s called the “Recovery Peer Coach Pilot Program.” The county plans to hire roughly 14 recovering heroin addicts and use them as peer coaches to encourage and support current addicts who are trying to escape their addiction.

Manatee County leads the state in overdose deaths per capita when it comes to opioids, including heroin and Fentanyl.

“What we’re trying to do is capitalize on that lived experience to inspire people to seek treatment, inspire people to stick with treatment,” said Manatee County Health Care Services Manager Joshua Barnett.

The county is looking for former addicts who are from the Manatee County area. They want people who were treated locally and found their way out of addiction.

“Somebody who can walk the walk and talk the talk from not just a clinical lens, but also a lived experience to say ‘you know, I’ve been through this, let me share with you my experience’ to help support somebody as they navigate sort of the challenges of addiction and recovery at the same time,” Barnett said.

“I think it’s really important to see that these people have something vital to contribute, not necessarily because of clinical expertise, but because of their recovery expertise,” he said.

The county is still developing the program, but officials expect it to begin sometime in the next few months.

“We’ve seen ourselves as the epicenter of overdose and addiction. I really would like to use this program to help catapult this county into not being a county known for addiction, but a county known for recovery,” said Barnett.

Rosie Dillon is a recovering heroin addict. She battled drug use for years and found it very difficult to get clean.

“I just felt like nobody cared about me and I wanted out. I just didn’t know how,” she said.

“It’s really scary, the feeling of being alone is just….it was terrifying. Nobody cares about me, I didn’t even care about myself, why would anybody else care about me?” Dillon recalled.

She wishes she had a peer coach to help her.

“Somebody telling me that I’m worth more than what I’m doing, and that actually made it out alive, yeah it would help out,” she said.

Dillon is now interested in being a peer coach herself and she believes the program can play a huge role in saving Manatee County from this heroin crisis.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Recovery Peer Coach Pilot Program or getting involved yourself, contact Joshua Barnett at 941-749-3030.

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