Peer support pilot shows significant reduction in opioid-related emergency visits

NCHA, NC DHHS partnership addresses critical issue through engagement, empathy

Raleigh, NC – June 11, 2019 – A year after the announcement of a $1.37 million pilot program  employing individuals living in recovery with substance use disorder as part of emergency department care teams, participating North Carolina hospitals are seeing reductions in emergency department return visits and fewer hospitalizations among opioid use disorder patients. The North Carolina ED Peer Support Program, supported and administered by the North Carolina Healthcare Foundation, the 501(c)(3) affiliate of the North Carolina Healthcare Association, is funded through the NC Department of Health and Human Services for a one-year term.

Each of the program’s six pilot hospitals, which launched in August 2018, hired two certified peer support specialists, each of whom have been in recovery for at least three years. In the program’s first eight months, ED Peer Support services across the six sites were provided to a total of 1,510 participants. During that time, the hospitals reported a 66% decrease in emergency department returns among participants and a 74% decrease in hospitalizations, compared to the year before enrollment.

“Addressing our state’s opioid epidemic requires a multi-faceted approach that must include empowering patients to take control of their health,” said Nicholle Karim, director of Behavioral Health with the North Carolina Healthcare Foundation.  “Through the program, patients are not only getting the personalized attention they need in the hospital, but they also are being connected to treatment to keep them well.”

Peers have been responsible for at least a third of all opioid use disorder patient referrals from participating EDs to harm reduction services, mental health care, medication assisted treatment (MAT), transportation, housing, employment, and health insurance. Peers have become welcome and encouraging additions to the care team.

“ED staff members often see patients at their worst or in crisis,” said John Shinn, peer support specialist at Cone Health in Greensboro. “I can be an example of the belief that substance use recovery is possible.”

The pilot is being highlighted as part of the Opioid Misuse & Overdose Prevention Summit, sponsored by the NC Department of Health and Human Services on June 11-12 at the McKimmon Center in Raleigh.


The ED Peer Support Program is administered by the North Carolina Healthcare Foundation, the 501(c)(3) affiliate of the North Carolina Healthcare Association (NCHA), and funded by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. NCHA member hospitals selected as part of the pilot program include: Carolinas Healthcare System Northeast (part of Atrium Health), Cone Health, Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center, Southeastern Regional Medical Center, UNC Hospital, and Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.

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