IRON RANGE — It was more than 20 years ago when Beth listened to a colleague share stories of his chemical dependency and discovered she was not alone in her experiences of using in a tumultuous relationship while raising two sons in Duluth. She joined a recovery program and found herself on a journey that would include a divorce, relapse and second marriage.

Beth’s oldest son was a member of the U.S. Army National Guard who loved music and had a great sense of humor. He also had substance abuse issues and started his own recovery when graduating from the Duluth DWI Court. But after years of battling anxiety, depression and PTSD, he committed suicide in 2013. Since then, Beth has sought out ways to share her experience, strength and hope with others.

Having worked for a domestic violence shelter, an organization serving kids who are homeless and the South St. Louis County DWI Court, she became a Peer Support Specialist and the co-founder and project director of the founded Recovery Alliance Duluth (RAD) — a newly established non-profit organization providing support for people in recovery. It is the first group of its kind north of the Twin Cities.

Earlier this month, Beth joined Julie, another person in recovery and peer support specialist who co-founded RAD, in bringing their message to the Iron Range. (The last names of Beth and Julie have been removed from the article out of respect for their anonymity in recovery.)

Last week, both Beth and Julie shared their stories before more than 100 students and participants — in person and via web-cam — in the Introduction to Addiction Studies classroom at Mesabi Range College in Virginia. The event marked the second College Night hosted by the MRC and Range Hybrid Court for the semester.

As Julie told her story, she was driving while intoxicated nearly a decade ago when she crashed into an 18 year old with her vehicle. The teenager survived. Julie was convicted of a felony. She told the group — which included MRC human resource and chemical dependency instructor Mary Kay Riendeau, Range Treatment Center Director David Archambault and Sixth District Judge Michelle Anderson — that she has since been “active and thriving” in a recovery community and has worked with Judge Shaun Floerke in the Duluth DWI Court program.

Speaking to the class, Beth and Julie described how peer support specialists at RAD are people in recovery who help others experiencing situations.

“RAD is a neutral organization that doesn’t follow only one pathway to recovery,” Beth said. “Our mission is to support people seeking or maintaining recovery to inspire hope, create connections and break down stigma.”

As peer support specialists, they help advocate for people in recovery by supporting them in identifying their goals, hopes, dreams and creating concrete roadmaps for those seeking recovery meetings and centers in addition to child care, transportation, health and social services, housing and employment.

“We need to put people in the driver’s seat,” Julie said. “You tell me what you want to do in recovery. And then I’ll take my size 8 boot and kick those doors down to help you.”

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, emerging research shows that peer support is “effective for supporting recovery from behavioral health conditions” as studies have shown the benefits include increases in sense of hope and inspiration, self care and wellness, and social support and social functioning. The services, as described by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, also results in decreases in substance use, relapse rates, hospitalization rates and criminal justice involvement.

The push to address such needed services comes at a time when rural communities in the northeastern part of Minnesota are trying to find support services to help people struggling with some of the highest rates per capita of alcoholism, drug use and overdose deaths in the state. Beth and Julie say that RAD becoming a non-profit means they can look for grants and other ways to afford their goals of training peer support specialists in Duluth and throughout the Northland. They also described how they are trying to develop a statewide association of recovery to compete for funding from the 2020 legislative session.

Beth and Julie hope to garner support from local and regional leaders to help them kick-off the development of peer support specialists — “the wave of the future,” Julie said.

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