This is a paid piece from the Sioux Falls Area Community Foundation.

Simplified: A recent grant from the Sioux Falls Area Community Foundation is helping create a network of peers to help Drug Court participants navigate the path to recovery.

Why it matters

  • Drug Court provides a recovery-focused alternative to incarceration for people who've committed nonviolent, drug-related crimes. Since it started in 2011, the Minnehaha County Drug Court has graduated 138 people, and the voluntary program continues to grow by about 22% each year, according to statistics from the county.
  • Peer support is a critical component to addiction recovery, and there's real power in having someone who can say, "I've been in your shoes," said Retired Circuit Court Judge Patricia Riepel, who presides over Drug Court.
  • A strong peer support network will be a game-changer in helping people who suffer from drug addictions, advocates say. Graduates of Drug Court who wish to become certified peer support specialists can enroll in a training program to learn how to use their lived experiences to help others.
“This will move Drug Court participants forward in their treatment and in their recovery much faster, and more successfully, and it will ensure they have a sense of community around them so they don’t feel so lost,” said Dez Kincaid, coordinator for the Second Judicial Circuit Drug Court. “That’s a major factor of relapse. We can get people sober, but staying sober without a community around you is really difficult.”

Tell me more

Dr. Melissa “Mo” Dittberner, a professor in the Addiction Counseling and Prevention Department at the University of South Dakota, developed the curriculum for the peer support specialist training in collaboration with Diane Eide, a project manager for the South Dakota Foundation for Medical Care.

"Peer specialists are really an evidence-based answer to the question of how best to support people on their path to recovery,” Dittberner said. “There’s real value in being able to turn to someone who’s ‘been there, done that.’ There’s a lot of evidence that shows the practice helps people.”

In addition to helping people in their recovery journey, the peer support specialist program will also help Drug Court graduates by providing a source of income and a potential pathway to a new career.

What happens next?

Peer support specialist training will begin this month as a pilot program, with a long-term goal of rolling out the model statewide, Dittberner said.

“We know the road to recovery is painful and difficult. And we know that the more positive support we can offer throughout that journey, the more successful people will be,” said Patrick Gale, vice president for community investment with the Foundation. “We’re extremely proud to support this effort, which we know will help not only those who are working toward sobriety, but their families, friends, and neighbors as well."