March 22, 2018

Luján Welcomes New Mexico Witness to Testify in House Hearings on Opioid Abuse

Farmington resident testifies that peer-support program have been instrumental in her recovery and recovery of others

[Washington, DC] – Farmington resident, Carlene Deal-Smith took center stage in Washington, DC today as she testified before a Congressional panel focused on finding solutions to the growing opioid epidemic. Ms. Deal-Smith is a Native American woman of the Navajo Tribe, who works at Presbyterian Medical Services through their Totah Behavioral Health Authority program. She appeared before the House Subcommittee on Health, of which Luján is a member, to provide insight into peer support programs which have been successful in helping in the recovery of those suffering with substance addiction problems.

Deal-Smith, herself a recovering alcoholic, testified about the importance of peer support programs in her life and in the lives of those she works with. “I am 17 years sober, and I have worked with substance abuse programs for years. I believe peer support works because I see the miracles happening each day. Peer support programs offer more than just support to people in recovery – they offer jobs to people in recovery,” she testified. “Employment and independence help you feel like you are a part of the world and that you matter. I earned my relevant job experience with a lot of struggle and hard work. It makes me proud to be able to turn that struggle into a career that allows me to support myself and help other people recover.”

Ms. Deal-Smith is testifying in support of a bipartisan bill to increase funding by $75 million for peer support programs nationwide.  Luján said peer support workers are one of the most important tools we have to increase the addiction workforce in this country.

Last September, an amendment authored by Luján (D-NM) providing funding for peer support programs was approved by the House. The amendment provided $2 million in dedicated funding for Peer Support Paraprofessionals as part of the Behavioral Health Workforce Education and Training Program.

Lujan said the testimony of those with first-hand and front-line experience working with peer support programs is critical for decision makers who are working to provide better outcomes for addiction recovery programs – especially when it comes to out-patient efforts like peer support programs.

“The current system for treating addiction recovery and other behavioral health issues is not sufficient to serve everyone who needs help. It is unacceptable that more than two-thirds of primary care providers have no ability to prescribe outpatient behavioral health for their patients,” said Luján. “Testimony like that of Carlene’s focuses a spotlight on peer support programs that are so essential in ensuring positive outcomes.”

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