Gov. DeSantis signs law to boost use of peer specialists in substance abuse programs
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

Sen. Darryl Rouson pushed the new legislation.

Sen. Darryl Rouson, who has publicly recounted his past battles with drug and alcohol, has for years wanted to make it easier for those who struggled with addiction to help those attempting to turn around their lives.

The St. Petersburg Democrat got his wish on Thursday when Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill that would allow those recovering from substance abuse disorders to play a role in substance abuse treatment programs.

Under the law that takes effect on July 1, specialists will be able to undergo background screenings. But if they have a disqualifying offense in their background, they can request an exemption from the disqualification.

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. But some of those who want to help say they have been unable to do so because they had past criminal behavior that disqualified them. The new law would create a pathway for them to still do the job.

The law 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.

“Peer specialists are critical in helping individuals recover from substance use disorder and mental health issues,” said Managing Entities CEO Natalie Kelly.

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.

Substance use disorder 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. 

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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