Peer Specialist Programs
Peer specialist programs offer non-clinical services and supports provided by peers who have received
training on recovery issues and have also had personal experience with substance use disorder (SUD).
Peer specialists provide services throughout the entire continuum of care by providing emotional
support and mentoring, linking patients to information, and helping with practical tasks such as
completing paperwork and assisting with transportation. Peer specialists, often in recovery
themselves, play a key role in establishing and maintaining social connections in a supportive and
understanding environment. Peer specialists can provide a critical role in rural communities, where
there are often fewer treatment resources and fewer healthcare providers.
With training, some peers may serve in a more formal role like a certified
peer recovery support specialist. Certification to
become a specialist varies by state. Community
(CHWs) may also serve as a bridge between the target population and a variety of treatment services
organizations. CHWs have the capacity to help individuals stay committed to receiving needed
healthcare and mental health services. CHWs can receive additional training to provide support for
peers recovering from SUDs. For example, the Affiliated Service
Providers of Indiana Network provides a three-day training to
certify CHWs, with an optional two additional days of training to obtain a Community Recovery
Specialist (CRS) designation.
Examples of Rural Peer Specialist Programs
- The Montana Warm Line is a toll-free
peer support hotline designed to reach people in rural settings with limited access to recovery
supports by linking consumers with trained peer support specialists.
- The Affiliated Service Providers of Indiana Network provides
Certified Recovery Specialist trainings to qualifying Indiana-based
community health workers and assists with placement in clinics and organizations throughout the
- The Armstrong-Indiana-Clarion Drug and Alcohol
Commission's Nurse Navigator and Recovery Specialist Outreach Program in Shelocta,
Pennsylvania, has used the CHW model to provide case management services by pairing peer recovery
specialists and registered nurses to help patients navigate SUDs.
Marquette County Peer Recovery Services provides peer recovery support
services including peer mentoring and coaching, resource connecting, facilitating recovery
groups, and building a safe community for members. The drop-in center is located in Marquette,
Michigan, but serves multiple counties in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.
Considerations for Implementation
One major challenge to implementing peer specialist programs in rural communities is convincing
healthcare providers that peer specialists offer a valuable service for their practice. Proponents of
peer support models have addressed this barrier by establishing standardized certification programs
for peer specialists. The National Association of Peer
Supporters maintains a list of various national training curricula and standards on its website.
Certification typically involves coursework, fees, testing, and renewal fees.
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services recognizes peer support services as an
evidence-based mental health model and has provided guidelines
states regarding reimbursement for peer-provided services; however, reimbursement rates often
vary by setting. Learn more about the benefits and costs of the peer specialist program.
CHWs and peer specialists are often members of the communities in which they work and are well
positioned to provide culturally sensitive services to the population. Their understanding of their
community allows them to develop close relationships with the people they serve, improving quality of
care. RHIhub's Community
Health Workers Toolkit provides in-depth information on implementing CHW programs in rural
Program Clearinghouse Examples
Resources to Learn More
Community Health Worker (CHW)
Provides tools and resources, including evidence-based research on the effectiveness of CHWs.
Organization(s): Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Support Program Toolkit
An overview of peer specialists and peer support programs with a focus on behavioral health to be
used by hospitals, healthcare organizations and community agencies. Offers information on program
planning, education and training, and sustainability.
Author(s): Morris, C., Banning, L., Mumby, S., & Morris, C.
Organization(s): Behavioral Health and Wellness Program, University of Colorado Anschutz Medical
Campus School of Medicine,
Meaningful Roles for Peer Providers in
Provides a comprehensive look at the role of peer providers assisting individuals with behavioral
health needs in an integrated healthcare setting. Covers peer support program implementation
including hiring practices, competencies and skills, training, supervision, financing, and program
Organization(s): California Association of Social Rehabilitation Agencies, Integrated Behavioral
Health Project, California Mental Health Services Authority