Peer Workers: The life of the opioid crisis

Aaron Matthew Laxton, LCSW
8 min readFeb 21, 2020
Photo by Monica Melton on Unsplash

The need for a robust workforce that can effectively work with individuals living with substance use disorder has never been greater than it is today. Across the United States, billions of dollars are allocated to addressing substance use disorders; however, one of the major barriers is — who will do the work? I focus much of my attention on the peer specialist and the role they play in the addiction recovery space. My colleague Dr. Fred Rottnek, professor and the program director of the new Addiction Medicine Fellowship at Saint Louis University (SLU), is also sounding the alarm for the development of physicians, nurses, and other professionals who can answer the call. In this article, I will discuss some challenges to professional development and highlight examples of how SLU is forming collaborations to promote training and professionalism among health care workers.

Dr. Fred Rottnek, Saint Louis University

Addiction Medicine requires specialization due to many complexities of daily care. Under the newly created Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME), the addiction medicine subspecialty focuses on the prevention, screening, diagnosis, treatment, and recovery of unhealthy substance use, substance use disorders (SUDs), and other addictive behaviors. Saint Louis University developed the fellowship not only in response to the current opioid epidemic but to also address the often-neglected training needs of physicians around SUDs and chronic pain. Addiction physicians provide care to patients across the lifespan, who have different degrees of disease severity. Care and prevention services provided by physicians, and interprofessional teams who work in diverse settings, including clinical medicine, public health, education, and research.


SLU’s fellowship is the first and only addiction medicine fellowship in the state of Missouri. (Together with the new University of Nebraska’s recently approved fellowship, we are the only two fellowships in SAMHSA’s Region VII — Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, and Kansas). SLU’s program is the only one in the nation with core faculty and core rotations in Family Medicine, Psychiatry, and Maternal-Fetal…

Aaron Matthew Laxton, LCSW

I am a psychotherapist who writes about mental health, addiction, recovery and the impact of substance use from personal experience. Views are my own.