Bill promoting certified peer specialists for substance abuse disorders passes Legislature
TALLAHASSEE, FLA. 11/30/21-Sen. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, listens during the Senate Judiciary Committee, Tuesday at the Capitol in Tallahassee. COLIN HACKLEY PHOTO

The measure has been a longstanding priority for Sen. Darryl Rouson.

A bill that would establish standards for certified peer specialists and allow them to be part of the state’s alcohol and drug abuse delivery system is on its way to the Governor after the House passed the bill 114-0 Thursday. SB 282 had previously passed the Florida Senate earlier this month unanimously.

The bill amends state law to label certified peer specialists as an essential part of a coordinated system of care for the treatment of substance use disorder.

The measure has been a longstanding priority for Sen. Darryl Rouson, a St. Petersburg Democrat. Rouson, who has in the past battled alcohol and cocaine addictions, has been sober for more than 20 years. Rouson has used his experiences to help push for changes to the state’s substance abuse laws.

Peer specialists are persons who have recovered from substance use disorder (SUD) or mental illness who support a person with a current substance use disorder or mental illness.

According to a staff analysis of the bill, SUD occurs when an individual chronically uses alcohol or drugs, resulting in significant impairment, such as health problems, disability, and failure to meet major responsibilities at work, school or home.

About 40.3 million people aged 12 or older in 2020 had a substance use disorder within the previous year, according to the 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

The bill requires peer specialists to have been in recovery from a substance use disorder or mental illness for the past two years or be a family member or caregiver of an individual with a history of SUD or mental illness. The bill authorizes the Department of Children and Families to develop a competency test that certified peer specialists would be required to pass.

The legislation also requires peer specialists to undergo background screening. But if they have a disqualifying offense in their background, they can request an exemption from the disqualification under the bill.

In a prepared statement, Florida Association of Managing Entities CEO Natalie K. Kelly thanked Rouson and House bill sponsor, Rep. Elizabeth Fetterhoff, for their perseverance to getting the bill passed.

“Peer specialists play a vital role in behavioral health services, as they use their own recovery experiences to help those seeking treatment for substance use disorder and mental illness. Nothing compares to getting help from someone who has faced similar challenges,” Kelly said.

The measure comes as the number of drug overdose deaths in the nation is on the increase.

The number of drug overdose deaths in the U.S. rose by nearly 29% over a 12-month period ending in April 2021, to an estimated 100,306, according to the National Center for Health Statistics at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Opioids accounted for more than 75% of those overdose deaths.

Christine Jordan Sexton

Tallahassee-based health care reporter who focuses on health care policy and the politics behind it. Medicaid, health insurance, workers’ compensation, and business and professional regulation are just a few of the things that keep me busy.


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