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Arkansas DHS Peer Support Conference to help those struggling with substance abuse and mental illness


Goal is to grow network of Peer Recovery Support Specialists

For Immediate Release:
August 20, 2021

Media Contacts
Amy Webb, Chief of Communications

Gavin Lesnick, Deputy Chief of Communications

Dealing with the impact of drug use, addiction, and mental illness is tough, but there are special people and services that can help. That’s why the Arkansas Department of Human Services’ (DHS) Division of Aging, Adult, and Behavioral Health Services (DAABHS) and state Drug Director Kirk Lane are co-sponsoring “Peer Evolution 2021,” a free in-person peer support conference on September 8-10 at the Wyndham Hotel in North Little Rock.

The conference will raise awareness about the importance of peer recovery and support with a goal of increasing the number of Peer Recovery Support Specialists in Arkansas. These peers are individuals who have experienced mental illness or drug addiction but are now in recovery and work to help others overcome their struggles. 

Conference organizer Jimmy McGill, Chairman for the Arkansas Peer Advisory Committee and State Opioid Response Coordinator for the Office of the State Drug Director, knows all too well the impact of peer support. After confronting his own substance abuse issues, McGill has led the development of peer recovery throughout Arkansas.

“Lots of very smart, caring folks had tried to help me: counselors, teachers, pastors, doctors,” McGill said. “But they all lacked the one thing I needed, and that was credibility. I couldn’t relate to them. When I met people who were in recovery, I saw everything clearly. I had a path forward, and I saw that someone just like me had made the journey successfully. An addict in recovery did in two minutes what people had been trying to do for 20 years.”

He is a Certified Peer Recovery Specialist and has assisted in the training of over 330 peer recovery support specialists. His efforts have allowed Arkansas to place peers in emergency rooms, treatment centers, community centers, drug courts, jails, and reentry centers. But the need is still great.

“We’ve made amazing progress growing peer recovery and support in Arkansas,” said McGill. “But we still have 26 counties that do not have a Peer Recovery Support Specialist. Our goal has always been to build out a 75-county infrastructure of peer recovery workers to offer recovery support and services across Arkansas. We are close to achieving success with our vision, but we need more people to see the value in peer support.”

The 26 counties that do not have a Peer Recovery Support Specialist include:

•    Calhoun
•    Chicot
•    Clay
•    Columbia
•    Cross
•    Dallas
•    Desha
•    Franklin
•    Fulton
•    Hempstead
•    Howard
•    Lafayette
•    Lincoln
•    Little River
•    Logan
•    Madison
•    Mississippi
•    Monroe
•    Nevada
•    Newton
•    Phillips
•    Pike
•    Poinsett
•    Prairie
•    Scott
•    Searcy

The need for peer recovery support is great. More than 42,000 Americans died from opioid overdoses in 2016, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In Arkansas, there were 379 drug overdose deaths in 2016, which increased to 411 drug overdose deaths in 2017. Additionally, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in five adults in the United States experience mental illness. And one in 20 adults in the U.S. experience serious mental illness. Peer recovery support is critical because it carries a credibility that cannot come from any other source.

There is no charge to attend the conference. If you are already a certified peer recovery support specialist, interested in becoming one, someone who works in the mental health or substance abuse treatment field, or just someone who wants to learn more about mental health, substance abuse, and peer support, please register for the conference at It runs from September 8-10 at the Wyndham Hotel in North Little Rock. Meals will not be provided, but the hotel has dining options on site and other restaurants are within walking distance as well.

For more information about programs offered through DHS and DAABHS, visit

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