Eric McIntire's been spit on and cursed at, and splattered with the blood of a stranger pulling an IV out from their arm.

But he couldn't imagine doing anything else.

McIntire, who was hooked on any number of drugs from age 13 to 29, has been clean for 15 years now, and currently serves as the coordinator of the RWJBarnabas Health Peer Recovery Program running at hospital emergency departments in seven New Jersey counties.

McIntire leads a team of about 60 recovery specialists — all of whom have been sober for at least four years — that are notified immediately when an overdose patient arrives in the ER.

An on-call specialist arrives bedside within an hour of getting notified, and performs a peer-to-peer intervention trying to convince the recently-revived patient to seek treatment for their substance use disorder.

"All we need is a heartbeat and we have a shot at helping them out," McIntire told New Jersey 101.5.

RWJBarnabas Institute For Prevention & Recovery in Eatontown, NJ
Eric McIntire (RWJBarnabas Health)

If the patient is willing to start the journey toward recovery, McIntire's team immediately links them up with a patient navigator, who's tasked with steering them towards the appropriate treatment for their specific scenario.

"We have a 100 percent success rate — anybody who wanted the help received the help," McIntire said.

Since launching in 2016, the program's engaged with more than 3,200 patients across 15 hospitals.

The program, funded by a state grant, instructs peer recovery specialists to follow up with patients for a minimum of eight weeks when the patient does not immediately agree to treatment.

McIntire said his team keeps close contact with patients who've both denied treatment and accepted it.

McIntire's personally dealt with about 200 patients on the brink of death but revived by Narcan. The spit, the cursing and the blood are all worth the many success stories his team is responsible for, he said.

"When you help one individual, nobody realizes how many more people you're helping," McIntire said. "You're stopping the criminal activity ... You're stopping the family from having heartbreak every two seconds."

McIntire's own success story eventually started after several attempts at treatment. Since getting clean, McIntire remarried a woman he had previously lost because of his addiction. They live in Monroe Twp. with their three children.

McIntire walked away from "a very good union job in construction" in order to focus on recovery work full time.

"Life has never been better," McIntire said.

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