In Need of Support but ‘I Felt Like I'd Lose My Job'


In Need of Support but ‘I Felt Like I'd Lose My Job'
Mikaila Wingfield, a peer support specialist for Arkansas's Division of Youth Services and Kyle Brewer, peer specialist program manager at NAADAC, an association for addiction professionals. (Together Arkansas)

It’s an issue impacting many Arkansas workers, but often in silence.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), addiction is reported among roughly the same number of people in the United States as diabetes. The National Institutes of Health says 10% of adults in our nation will experience a drug use disorder at some point — that’s around 32 million Americans who will struggle with illicit drugs.

While many companies offer medical insurance to treat illnesses like diabetes and heart disease, there is a push for more companies to offer substance use treatment — in a nonjudgmental space.

“For people who are currently employed, we want to create a space in the workplace where people feel safe to come to their supervisor or to their colleagues and say ‘Hey, I have this issue’ without feeling like they are going to be punished or lose their job,” said Kyle Brewer, peer specialist program manager at NAADAC, the association for addiction professionals. “I think anybody could look back on their life and think of a time where someone gave them a second chance and said, ‘Hey, look. Despite what you’ve been through, I believe in you, and I want to invest in you. And I want to give you an opportunity to find a new way of living.’”

Employers can support and retain the talent within their workforce and be part of the recovery process by tapping into available resources. TogetherArkansas.com provides tools for employers, including a five-module course that gives an overview of the legal and operational issues they should consider when addressing an employee’s substance use disorder. The site also includes links to state and national resources and personal testimonies of those who have struggled with substance use and those whose lives have been tragically affected by losing a loved one to overdose.

According to Brewer, peer support is a particularly effective way to assist those in their recovery journey. Government researchers say people who participate in peer recovery have increased treatment retention, improved access to social supports, reduced relapse rates, less criminal justice system experience and greater housing stability — not to mention the cost savings. Medicaid recipients in drug treatment who were enrolled in peer support intervention cost Medicaid an average of $2,138 less than Medicaid-enrolled individuals who did not receive peer support.

“I encourage Arkansas employers to consider utilizing peer specialists in their organizations or as part of their Employee Assistance Programs (EAP). Employers can help bridge this gap for their employees and, through this collaborative approach, can help save and change lives,” Brewer said.

Brewer knows firsthand. His 10-year battle with opioid addiction began during his freshman year of college after he had his wisdom teeth removed. Pain medication prescribed after surgery grew into an addiction that included heroin and other opioid medications.

“By the grace of God, that was not the end of my story,” Brewer said.

Peer recovery support is relatively new but is becoming common in recovery programs. Since the state began offering certification for recovery specialists in 2018, training has been provided to more than 470 Arkansans. More than 200 people in the state are registered as a Peer in Training or are certified in one of the three levels of peer recovery support services.

Used in hospitals, jails, treatment centers, outpatient clinics and youth services, experts say peer recovery specialists are effective because they speak with clients about recovery options and support networks and, most importantly, relate to their struggles.

“I am open and honest and raw. I tell it how it is. I don’t sugarcoat anything … I have to be honest today because I wasn’t living an honest life in my addiction,” said Mikaila Wingfield, a peer support specialist for Arkansas’ Division of Youth Services. Recovering from substance use herself, she helps her clients set goals, learn life skills, identify triggers to their drug use and how to overcome challenges in their everyday lives.

Brewer says peer support is rooted in relationships — founded on equality, mutuality and shared experience. This foundation enables a peer recovery specialist to walk alongside someone, empower them to make their own choices and model a life of recovery.

“To be honest with you, the stigma that’s associated with addiction kept me in the cycle because I felt like I’d be judged, I felt like I might lose my job,” Brewer said. “The reality is that for so long we tried to ignore the problem, and by ignoring the problem we don’t help anybody. By saying ‘We know these problems exist, so we’re going to be proactive by creating policies, procedures and resources that will support that particular situation,’ it’s overall a benefit not just for the organization, but the communities that we serve.”

Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield, The Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce, the Arkansas Foundation for Medical Care and Walmart created a coalition, Together Arkansas, to be proactive in the fight against opioid use and create a drug-free workforce. Visit TogetherArkansas.com for free resources for businesses, including information on peer recovery.


This project is supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $3,017,401 with 100 percent funded by CDC/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by CDC/HHS, or the U.S. Government.