A bill aimed at making sure people with mental health and substance abuse disorders have access to early intervention and peer mentorship has unanimously cleared the Florida House.
Rep. Cyndi Stevenson, R-St. Augustine, is sponsoring the legislation (HB 1187), which would allow more people to qualify as mentors by not barring those with nonviolent drug offenses.
“This is a win-win for Florida because peer specialists are proven to be effective in the treatment of those struggling with mental illness and substance abuse disorders,” said Stevenson.
Under the bill, “peer specialists,” who are typically people with similar life experiences, would be trained to - among other things - provide emotional support, facilitate workshops and assist with transportation.
Rep. Jennifer Webb, D-Gulfport , said she suffered from substance abuse and homelessness at and commended Stevenson's effort.
“It was peer mentorship that helped me get back on the right path. And that I give back on a weekly basis working with others who struggle with addiction and alcoholism,” she said.
According to the bill analysis, at least 41 states have established programs to train and certify such specialists, including Florida.
The bill would also require the state to study whether all communities offer what's known as the First-Episode Program and recommend areas for improvement. The early intervention program treats those showing early signs of serious mental health illness through individualized resources such as case management and psychotherapy.
The approach is relatively new to Florida and, visibly emotional, Stevenson said it’s very effective.
“It prevents homelessness, unnecessary incarceration, suicide and early death,” she said. “It enables them instead to be engaged members of their family, with improved social and family relations; higher rates of school completion and higher rates of employment.”
A companion bill (SB 528) is moving through the Senate with the legislative session set to wrap up May 3rd.