Launched in 2018, New Jersey’s Intensive Recovery Treatment Support (IRTS) Program is a first-in-the-nation, team-based support initiative designed to provide recovery-focused assessment, linkage to treatment, and comprehensive reentry support for individuals with opioid use disorders (OUDs). Developed in collaboration with the New Jersey Department of Corrections (NJDOC), the New Jersey Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, and Rutgers University Behavioral Health Care (UBHC), the IRTS Program was created to address the many obstacles that those who struggle with OUD may encounter upon leaving prison. These difficulties include finding housing and employment; securing insurance and treatment; and recognizing and staying away from triggers for their substance abuse.
The IRTS program maintains a team of individuals who provide ancillary support, both in prison and upon release, to those suffering from OUD. The support team includes case managers, nurses, and most importantly, peer navigators. Margaret Swarbrick, PhD, Associate Professor and Director of Practice Innovation and Wellness at Rutgers UBHC, oversees the program and states that peer support is critical to long term recovery from OUD. Moreover, research indicates that peer support specialists with shared experiences who assist newly-released offenders significantly improve the success rates of reentry into society. Therefore, the program employs peer navigators as the crux of the IRTS Program.
The peer navigators in the IRTS Program are individuals who themselves have been incarcerated and are in recovery from substance use disorders. The requirements to become a peer navigator are rigid, as each must be in recovery and be at least five years removed from criminal involvement. In addition, they receive intensive training through Rutgers UBHC on how to help others develop coping and problem-solving strategies and how to draw on their own life experiences to promote mental and physical health and life skills. A peer navigator meets with an inmate six months prior to his release and begins to form a bond with, and develop a plan for, helping him re-enter society and stay clean and sober.
The connection between the peer navigator and the reentering person facing recovery outside of prison is crucial. “Oftentimes, offenders, especially those who have burned bridges with their families, have little or no support, so the peer navigator becomes the primary support system,” said Herbert Kaldany, DO, Director of Mental Health and Addictions for the NJDOC. As part of the program, Dr. Kaldany noted that a peer navigator is provided with a car to pick up the reentering person from prison on the day of release, takes him to his home, and stays in contact
with him through a prepaid phone provided to the individual by the NJDOC. This enables the two to stay in contact, often in person, at least over the next twelve months, as the peer navigator helps the person address any setbacks and issues that could potentially lead to relapse.
Funding for the IRTS program is through the NJDOC.
The IRTS program can serve up to six hundred people, two hundred of whom receive medication-based treatment and four hundred who receive other substance use treatment services, such as psychotherapy. For more information on the IRTS program and peer navigators, logon to https://impact.rutgers.edu/irts/?utm_source=rutgerstoday&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign= launch and https://www.nj.gov/corrections/pdf/NJDOCNewsletter/2019_Mar_InsideCorrections.pdf. For more information on Rutgers University’s Behavioral Health Care, logon to https://ubhc.rutgers.edu/.