Peer Recovery Support Specialist Helps Fight Addiction Crisis

Trish Eddy, a certified peer recovery support specialist at Catholic Charities, ends every phone call to an addiction recovery patient with the words, “I love your whole soul.” It’s her reminder to them that they are worth the battle she is helping them fight. As someone who has been sober for seven years, Trish knows firsthand what it’s like to struggle with addiction, but she says recovery has come very far, thanks to programs like First Step.

First Step is a program at Summa’s Akron, Barberton and Green emergency departments which offers an entry point to addiction treatment 24 hours a day, seven days a week. First Step provides medical treatment, care coordination, recovery coach connection and service coordination – all at no cost to the patient. The program was piloted by United Way of Summit & Medina as part of their Bold Goal 4 initiative – to reduce Summit County ER visits due to drug overdose to 1,000 annually by 2025.

First Step patients not only receive medication-assisted treatment – the gold standard for opioid addiction treatment – but long-term follow up care as well. That’s where Trish comes in. Everyone who goes through the First Step program gets a meeting with her or one of her colleagues. This helps remove barriers to treatment and lasting recovery.

Trish often uses United Way’s 211 information and referral database to help her clients access basic needs resources to support their recovery and get their life back on track. She refers her clients to 211 so they can get bus passes and free legal aid, participate in license restoration programs and find employment amongst other things.

“Addicts are used to trying to figure everything out on their own,” she says. “When they get to connect with a peer that’s been in their shoes, they get to see it’s possible to come out of addiction.” Which is why First Step, Catholic Charities and the other behavioral health programs United Way supports are vital to our community’s bright future.

As Trish sees it, United Way’s Bold Goal 4 efforts and the First Step program have increased the amount of sustainable “clean” time in the community. “People in recovery are being shown respect again,” she says. “Instead of being disregarded as a junkie, the human piece is being put back into place.”

Aside from the work Trish does with her clients in the office, she’s out in the community each day. She is an advocate for her patients, sharing her own experiences with them as well as no-nonsense advice. And she’ll even get her hands dirty, if that’s what it takes. She recently helped a client power wash and landscape his house in preparation for a sale – a step he needed to take to pay back debts due to addiction.

Trish hopes to increase the amount of awareness that help is out there and show the community that lasting recovery is possible. “I always tell people in recovery; you will never change someone’s mind about addiction,” she says. “You can only teach them what recovery looks like.”

In 2016, 2,431 people in Summit County visited an emergency room due to drug overdose. As of 2020, that number is down to 1,059.