Philadelphia is a national leader in addiction help that includes former addicts as part of the professional treatment team.
Six years ago, Philadelphia redesigned its programs for people with mental health and addiction problems. Gary Brown is communications director for the Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health and Mental Retardation Services.
He said the city now offers more than just clinical treatment to get clients off drugs or onto medication.
“People in recovery need something to do. People need a job, people need connections. They need friends, they need hobbies to do, things that will sustain recovery,” he said.
Gil Gadson used drugs for 30 years and is now a peer specialist with the city. If you are trying to become a boxer, Gadson said, it is nice to learn from someone who has gotten knocked down and knows how to get back on his feet. That advice, he said, is very different from what you would get from a doctor who has studied the mechanics of a knock out.
Gadson is leading Philadelphia’s newest peer-support initiative, “Expressions in Recovery,” a magazine written by people in recovery. In the next issue, former addicts describe the moment they finally committed to treatment.
Gadson’s moment came when his was sitting across from a peer specialist at Philadelphia’s Northeast Treatment center.
“She didn’t ask me a whole lot of questions, she didn’t shove papers in my face first. The first thing she asked me is ‘Are you OK? Want some coffee or something? How you feel?’ and I totally believed that she was interested in me,” he said.
The use of peer specialists has been controversial. Some criticize it as a way to cut clinical staff and costs. Department spokesman Gary Brown says offering help from former addicts gives Philadelphia credibility other treatment centers do not offer.