HEAL Connections Lived Experience Panel

The goal of the Panel is to center the voices of people with lived experience in the work of the HEAL Initiative, partnering with people who can effectively speak to the priorities and needs of their communities.

The research being conducted as part of the HEAL Initiative is broad in scope and focuses both on pain and opioid use disorder. Therefore, the Lived Experience Panel is composed of a broad range of individuals, including those with pain conditions (regardless of whether they have utilized opioid medication to manage pain) and people in recovery from opioid use disorder (regardless of whether they also have a pain condition).


To learn more about the HEAL Initiative and HEAL Connections, see below.

Count of State

The Lived Experience Panel has 55 members total located throughout the United States. This gradient map indicates the states where Panel members are located.

The overall Lived Experience Panel is made up of the Subpanels listed below. These Subpanels represent different Priority Populations. Expand the tabs to learn more about each Subpanel.

Adults of any age (18+) who have lived experience with recovery from opioid use disorder (with or without lived experience with a pain condition).

We aim to have Subpanel members with different experiences with substance use and recovery, including experience with medications for opioid use disorder (MOUD), recovery support services, injection drug use, polysubstance use (using multiple different substances), harm reduction approaches, and abstinence-based recovery.

Adults of any age (18+) who have experience with a pain condition (regardless of whether they use or have used opioids to manage it).

We aim to have Subpanel members who have a variety of experiences covering a wide range of pain conditions (for example, chronic, acute, auto-immune-related, or others).

Adults of any age (18+) who are now in recovery from opioid use disorder and have lived experience with opioid use disorder while pregnant or postpartum

Adults of any age (18+) who have lived experience with recovery from opioid use disorder and a co-occurring mental health condition

Adults of any age (18+) who are family members/caregivers of someone who is in recovery from opioid use disorder or who has died from opioid use disorder

Adults of any age (18+) who have lived experience with a pain condition and/or recovery from opioid use disorder and who identify as Hispanic/Latino/a/x/é

Adults of any age (18+) who have lived experience with a pain condition and/or recovery from opioid use disorder and who identify as African American/Black

Adults of any age (18+) who have lived experience with a pain condition and/or recovery from opioid use disorder and who identify with the LGBTQI+ community

Adults of any age (18+) who have lived experience with a pain condition and/or recovery from opioid use disorder and who have lived experience with justice system involvement

Young adults aged 18-29 who have lived experience with a pain condition and/or recovery from opioid use disorder

Adults of any age (18+) from Indigenous groups of the U.S. (American Indian, Native American, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian) who have lived experience with a pain condition and/or recovery from opioid use disorder

Meet Our Panel Members

Panel members had a choice of how much of their personal information to include on this page, including the option of providing an anonymous bio. Members also chose the language and terminology themselves.

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Nikki Fordey


Glendale, AZ

Nikki is a dually licensed clinical social worker and addiction counselor with lived experience as a disabled chronic pain patient. She utilizes her personal and professional experiences to advocate for needed legislative changes that champion the worth and dignity of all people. She is now also a law student planning on promoting and defending the civil rights of disabled people, including those with mental health and/or substance use disorders and chronic pain.

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Lauren Marie Gauthier


Long Island, NY

Lauren is a young adult living in New York who is an opiate addiction survivor. She is currently working as a New York State Certified Peer Specialist and Certified Recovery Peer Advocate. Lauren began her advocacy work as a Peer Specialist for OnTrackNY, a program for young adults who are experiencing their first episode of psychosis. Lauren is very dedicated to reducing stigma against mental health and addiction. "Do everything in love." -1 Corinthians 16:14

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New Jersey

A dedicated resident and mother in New Jersey, Arielle is a NCPRSS and CPRS actively pursuing a social work education at Rutgers University. Her passion lies in advocating, educating, and supporting mothers and pregnant individuals facing challenges with substance use disorder, aiming to make a positive impact in their lives through compassionate assistance and community awareness. She embodies empathy in action and is a relentless advocate standing for those whose voices need amplification.


Melissa Beck


Birmingham, AL

Melissa Beck shifted from once selling drugs (aka pharmaceuticals) to earning her Certified Recovery Support Specialist certification. She consults and volunteers in a variety of areas, with a primary focus on substance use disorder (SUD) prevention and treatment. Melissa recently earned an MPH from the University of Alabama at Birmingham and is also certified as an Alcohol Drug Counselor and Faith-Based Support Specialist. She and her husband Jason have two rescue dogs, Kylie and Sir Charles Barkless.

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Dr. MoDena Stinnette


Winthrop Harbor, IL

MoDena Stinnette, PhD, CPRS
Community Psychologist
“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”
- Lilla Watson
Dr. Stinnette has worked in social services since 2004. Her contributions include lived experience, education, and professional development. Dr. Stinnette is dedicated to advocating and working with communities experiencing challenges related to carceral systems. Her current roles include Social Worker/PRC for the University of Illinois Chicago, Reducing Opioid Mortality in Illinois project, Adjunct Faculty with National Louis University, Chicago, IL, Governors State University, University Park, IL, and Dominican University, River Forest IL, Member of Education Justice Project, Board Member for Live4Lali’s Harm Reduction organization and Founding Board Member for The Mantle, IRB member, University of Chicago, IL, and a plethora of other community-based projects and volunteer efforts. Dr. Stinnette serves as the Executive Director for Peace and Justice Solutions.
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Lori Camacho-Velleses



Lori is an advocate for individuals seeking a healthier lifestyle. She works with individuals in a methadone clinic for CrossRoads' Turning Points and works as a judicial peer in the Colorado State Problem Solving Courts. She has nine years of sobriety after struggling with a 30-year heroin addiction that led her to prison in two states. She is passionate about helping others reach their authentic self in life.

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Gail Sulser


San Pedro, CA

Edge Clan

Gail Sulser is a Community Health Worker in San Pedro, CA at the San Pedro Mental Health Clinic. The first Peer Advocate hired at SPMH, she has proven to be a leading advocate, housing liaison, Certified Substance Abuse Counselor, ICM case manager, event coordinator, and volunteer coordinator promoting wellness and recovery. She provides a variety of services, including supervising the long-standing Art Expression Group and museum of collected artwork from clients. Gail was selected to display her individual art piece entitled Leprechaun with WeRise LA Gallery in 2019.

In 2014, she won prestigious recognition from the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health as Employee of the Year! Previously, she won the top award serving as a volunteer with Volunteers of America for her dedicated service. As an event coordinator, she has participated over 17 years with a long list of events, including Black History Month, Suicide Prevention, Recovery is Possible, Color My World with Hope for May is Mental Health Month, and with the first event to honor Community Health Workers here today in 2021. Gail Sulser is proud to be able to serve others who struggle with mental illness. As one who brings lived experience, she prides herself on helping those most severely challenged and to recognize their true purpose, and to know we can have a life filled with joy, love, peace, and happiness.


Meghann Perry


Bridgewater, MA

Meghann Perry is a Massachusetts native with lived experience of problematic substance use, mental health challenges, and navigating incarceration and medically-assisted recovery throughout her pregnancy and most of her adult life. In the years since resolving her substance use challenges, she's become an advocate, educator and speaker working at the intersection of recovery coaching, storytelling, and theatre across the full spectrum of prevention, treatment, and recovery. She especially loves working with young people.

Aryn Lee

Aryn Lee


Brookline, MA

Aryn is a pre-medical student at Boston University studying psychology and biology. She became involved in chronic pain advocacy work through Boston Children's Hospital Comfort Ability Program, where she mentors pediatric patients and families struggling with pain. She hopes to become a physician, where she can use her lived experience to guide her work and help others in need.

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Leah is a young adult living in Louisiana. She is currently trying to get into advocating for others that have been through addiction in general, but specifically for women pregnant and going through addiction. She herself went through two pregnancies while in addiction treatment, and from firsthand experience she would like to help change the way pregnant women and their babies are treated during, after, and moving forward to the future. They need a voice that hears them and is willing to help them during an uncertain period.





Jacqueline, a soon-to-be PhD in Pharmacology and Toxicology, transformed her personal victory over opioid dependence into a driving force for her scholarly quest to understand and address substance use disorders. Her research in neuroscience pairs seamlessly with her proactive co-founding role in a community organization, which focuses on educating the public and preventing opioid overdoses.

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Lauren Duba


Cincinnati, OH

A dedicated advocate for Public Health, Lauren is a person with lived experience working in the field of Clinical Research and Peer Support. She is a proponent of prioritizing data and evidence-based approaches. She channels her passion into community outreach and harm reduction initiatives, aiming to improve health equity.

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Sarah Smith


Jacksonville, FL

Sarah Smith, a person in long-term recovery and a Certified Recovery Peer Specialist, is originally from Oklahoma and relocated to Florida in 2015. She has worked in the behavioral health field for 19 years and currently serves as the Director of Grants Management at Starting Point Behavioral Healthcare. She holds master's degrees in Human Relations and Social Work. Actively involved in the recovery community, she is the Vice-Chair for First Coast Recovery Advocates and a Board Member for the Florida Harm Reduction Collective. In addition, she leads a weekly transfer addiction support group in Barination, an online support community for bariatric patients.

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Sparkle Lindsay


Denver, CO

Sparkle Lindsay, founder of Sparkle LLC, is a renowned motivational speaker, author, and recovery coach facilitator. With a mission to uplift and empower individuals, Sparkle captivates audiences with her keynote speeches and touches hearts nationwide. As a dedicated advocate for addiction and mental health, she also guides coaches in walking alongside those facing these challenges. Join Sparkle on her remarkable journey as she helps you uncover your rightful place and purpose, providing inspiration, motivation, and the tools to become the best version of yourself.

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Nikki Schoffelman


Sioux Falls, SD

Nikki resides in South Dakota where she is a Peer Recovery Coach and uses her own lived experience to help others find their own path. Her Lakota culture, her recovery program, and her family are her greatest guides in the work she does on a daily basis.
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Marissa Kluk


Johnson City, TN

Marissa (she/they) began working in the field of addiction early in her public health career, working within opioid-related grants at various levels of government. Her passion in the field is fueled by her own experience with substance use disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder, which she has been in recovery from since October 2017. Marissa is currently completing a Doctorate in Public Health at East Tennessee State University (ETSU) and works at ETSU Addiction Science Center, focusing current efforts on recovery ecosystem alignment in the Northeast Tennessee region. She is a Certified Peer Recovery Specialist and loves supporting people along their recovery journey.
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Rachel King-Johnson


Springfield, IL

Dedicated to personal growth and overcoming challenges, Rachel is a resilient individual who proudly identifies as someone in long-term recovery from substance use disorder(s) and co-occurring disorders. Passionate about making a positive impact, they actively contribute at the local and state levels by providing invaluable technical support to organizations committed to serving individuals facing similar struggles. With a steadfast commitment to advocacy, Rachel strives to foster a supportive environment and empower those on the journey to recovery.

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Amanda Branche


Oak Ridge, TN

Amanda is a nature enthusiast who identifies as LGBTQIA+ and lives with Trigeminal Neuralgia in East Tennessee. Professionally, she specializes in implementing evidence-based practices and has a background in child welfare, social psychology research, and applied psychology. She recognizes the importance of lived experience in the success of evidence-based programs and informed research, so she always strives to share her voice where it can create an impact.

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Vicki Thomas


San Antonio, TX

Vicki Thomas is a person in sustained recovery from an opioid use disorder and depression. As a person passionate about substance use prevention, harm reduction, and recovery, Ms. Thomas educates, advocates, and achieves policy changes to ensure that everyone can achieve wellness and be substance-free. In her spare time, Ms. Thomas enjoys volunteering and spending time with her family.


Helen 'Skip' Skipper


Bronx, NY

She | Her | Hers | Queen

Skip, as she prefers to be called, has been working in peer support since her final release from years of multiple incarcerations and systems involvement in 2007. She has lived experiences with behavioral health, chronic pain, and the criminal justice, homelessness, and family court systems. In her professional persona, Skip transitioned out of the Senior Manager of Peer Services position at the New York City Criminal Justice Agency where she was intentional in creating space for individuals with lived experiences to her new journey as Executive Director of the NYC Justice Peer Initiative in March 2022. In grad school, she is moving towards a Ph.D. in Criminology. She is also a recognized subject matter expert and is a frequent consultant nationwide on developing pathways for employment of justice-involved peers, designing/implementing programming, and lived-experiences inclusion. 

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Brandy Morris-Hafner


Chillicothe, OH

Brandy has been in recovery since 2008 and has dealt with a chronic pain condition since 2011. Once released from her second prison stint, she went on to get an Associate in Business and a Bachelor’s in SU Counseling, and she also holds an LCDC III. She is currently the Director for the Ross County Sheriff's Office Day Reporting Program, Co-Chair for the Reentry Coalition, Co-Chair for the Local Corrections Planning Board, and a member of the Post Overdose Response Team (PORT). She truly believes in the saying - “If nothing changes, nothing changes.” She challenges people to be the change that they want to see others make or have the opportunity to make!

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Dr. Edmund Creekmore


Richmond, VA

Dr. Edmund Creekmore, Jr.,  is a licensed clinical psychologist who has been in practice for over 30 years in the mental health field as a practitioner and administrator in Virginia in both the public and private sectors. He works with individuals and family members who have histories of substance use disorder, serious mental illness, and co-occurring disorders and as a consultant. Dr. Creekmore frequently makes statements at the Virginia General Assembly Behavioral Health Commission and before other commissions and subcommittees of the Virginia Legislature. Dr. Creekmore works as an independent forensic examiner for civil commitment courts under contract with the Office of the Virginia Supreme Court and serves as Policy Action Co-Chair of the National Shattering Silence Coalition, a non-profit organization of adult peers, professionals, and family members who advocate for adult loved ones with histories of serious mental illness and co-occurring disorders.  Dr. Creekmore also serves on the Virginia DBHDS Behavioral Advisory Council and the HEAL Connections Lived Experience Panel.

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Laura P.


Las Vegas, NV

Laura is a person who lives with chronic pain related to fibromyalgia and arthritis. She also has worked in the field of substance use and addiction recovery since 2007 and currently oversees a program for veterans in the criminal justice system with a history of substance use or mental health issues. She wanted to be a part of the HEAL Initiative to share her experiences as a woman seeking care for chronic pain and advocate against the stigma women, marginalized groups, and people in recovery often face when seeking care and services. She also feels her 17 years of experience working in the field of addiction recovery brings additional insight and perspective into the work being done through HEAL Connections.


Cindy Steinberg


Lexington, MA

Cindy Steinberg is the Director of Policy and Advocacy for the U.S. Pain Foundation and Policy Council Chair for the Massachusetts Pain Initiative. She is a nationally prominent and articulate spokesperson for the needs of people living with pain. Ms. Steinberg has won numerous awards for her pain policy accomplishments. Her dedication to pain advocacy was sparked when she sustained a severe crush injury that left her with daily back pain.

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Kimberly Haven



Kimberly Haven is not just a participant in the social justice movement; she's a dynamic force driving change. As a recognized subject matter expert, Kimberly is in high demand as a speaker, addressing crucial topics like Collateral Consequences of Convictions, Women in Prison, Women's Reproductive Justice, Voting Rights and Democracy, Conditions of Confinement, Mass Incarceration and Re-Entry, Pre-Trial and Parole and Probation reforms, and Higher Education in Prison.

Beyond the podium, Kimberly is a go-to expert for legislative testimonies and media commentary on a wide range of criminal justice reform and advocacy matters. She routinely consults with and collaborates with state and local elected officials and executives, sharing her invaluable insights on criminal justice issues.

Kimberly's leadership has left an indelible mark on numerous statewide initiatives, and she has masterminded impactful message campaigns that have shaped public discourse and driven policy change. Her 20+ years of experience have seen her conceive and execute innovative community engagement strategies and campaigns, setting her apart in the field. What truly distinguishes her is her unprecedented achievement as the only formerly incarcerated individual in Maryland who has authored and successfully ushered several pieces of legislation into law – two of which were first in the nation and now serve as model legislation for replication across the country.

Kimberly is adept at navigating intricate legislative landscapes, acting as a bridge between policymakers, advocacy groups, and external stakeholders in the space of justice reform. Her extensive background in community organizing, advocacy campaign creation, and legislative campaign leadership underscores her commitment to making a difference. Kimberly's unique perspective is rooted in and informed by her personal lived experience with the criminal justice system.  With an extensive background in community organizing, creating advocacy campaigns, and leading legislative campaigns, Kimberly is a savvy, highly effective and empathetic organizer in this space.

Every day, Kimberly dedicates herself to advancing, amplifying, and elevating the voices and efforts of those most affected by systemic issues. She has been and continues to be a catalyst for forging new collaborations and creating fresh platforms where these voices and leaders are leading the way toward lasting systemic change. In a sea of activists, Kimberly stands as a beacon of innovation and resilience, pushing boundaries and rewriting the narrative of justice reform.

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Mark Robinson



As the Regional Syringe Service Program Manager for Family and Medical Counseling Service, Inc., I oversee the day-to-day operations for the Needle Exchange/Harm Reduction Program in Washington, DC and the Syringe Service/ Harm Reduction Program in Prince George’s County, MD. Our goal is to reduce the rate of mortality and co-morbidity by saving the lives of our community constituents, right where we meet them. This is achieved through need-based sterile syringe distribution and cleanup, overdose education and prevention training accompanied with Narcan distribution, by creating linkages to MOUD services, valid identification program, behavioral health and physical health care. These services are provided in a non-judgmental, stigma-reducing manner. 

I have had the privilege of being formally educated through both public and private academic institutions and trained/mentored by esteemed experts, all of whom have provided the discipline and structural advantage needed to be marketable in today’s competitive society.  I have anonymously served our community for decades in the promotion and advocacy of better health and wellness and overall prosperity.

As important as formal education is, what’s more significant is what nurtured my purpose. I am a native Washingtonian who has experienced the disproportionate impact of systemic issues and so-called luxuries which our community cannot afford. The unspoken language of empathy and passion to serve was developed and nurtured by transitioning through the vicissitudes of life which were rooted in trauma, bad information, misperception and immaturity. This became my incubator. Even with education, surprisingly enough, all the episodes which I thought disqualified me, I have later learned are the very things that qualify me in a very unique way to articulate pain and be a voice and living example of healing and hope to those who can’t see beyond their current condition.  As a result, I submit to the mission of service and I help someone the way someone first helped me, even before I knew the value of their help.




Phoenix, AZ

Deven is a survivor of opiate addiction living in Phoenix, Arizona. A certified Peer Support Specialist in 2015, he is currently working in the community providing outreach, advocacy, education, and connections to services. Deven utilizes lived experience and a servant’s heart to create impact and opportunities for individuals struggling with addiction, mental health, and homelessness.

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Charlotte, NC

MJ is a proud North Carolinian who is an advocate for what she likes to call 'mental wealth' recovery and opiate use disorder recovery. She has over five years clean, and through her experience, strength, and hope continues to look for ways to improve the surge in opiate abuse and mental health disorders plaguing the African American community. She works in the corporate sector, but volunteers a great deal of her time being a voice for the youth.

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Christina Ashcraft Patton


Winchester, KY

Christina is a person in recovery who also works with the justice-involved in Montgomery County, Kentucky. She is an Outreach Peer Support Specialist as well. She has taken her experience with being a person with a substance use disorder and justice system involvement to advocate for herself and others in the community.

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Jessica T.



Jessica has been working in prevention for over two years, providing resources and education to communities with high impacted health disparities.





DJ is a Registered Nurse of 35 years who has lived experience with pain and OUD. After a near-death experience in 2020 from an opiate overdose, she has now been sober nearly four years. Her passion is to help other medical professionals, especially those just beginning their careers. She is involved with NIH workshops, and her dream is to become a motivational speaker on the subject of OUD.
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St. Louis, MO

Jack is a professional in the greater St. Louis area's professional mental health field, focusing on helping clients find recovery and live a happy self-directed life, with specialty in substance use. Jack found his own recovery at 21 from polysubstance use disorder, and has done his best over the past decade to be of service to others in every aspect of life since. Jack receives assistance in this goal from his assistant and friend, Traya, who happens to also be an African Pygmy Hedgehog.
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Indida Isabel Birto


Atlanta, GA

Indida is a young adult that works in the fields of mental health and harm reduction education, case management, and peer navigation in the Atlanta area. Her lived experience with co-occurring disorders, the US prison system, foster care, being Indigenous, homelessness, and the barriers these things initially made for her recovery is what has inspired her to become a fierce advocate for others. She believes the best approach to recovery and healing is one filled with nurturing and encouragement.

“At the moment of your commitment the Universe conspires on behalf of your success.“

University of Arizona College of Medicine Family & Community Medicine Kevin Phillips, Workforce Development Trainer

Kevin P.



Bio coming soon!

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Kimberly Moore


Dallas, TX

Kimberly moved her family to Dallas 23 years ago where she entered a Drug Rehabilitation Center and became a member of a 12-Step Program. She has remained free of all mood-changing, mind-altering substances ever since and became certified in Criminal Justice. She won the “Women’s Opportunity Award,” a scholarship for women who have faced hard times and persevered. She was also featured in the local recovery magazine and made the front page for her contributions to the community.  

Kimberly has worked in several Rehabilitation Centers, as well as the TX Department of Criminal Justice where she taught recovery classes. Currently, she sponsors others and does Motivational Speaking nationally.

She has her own lived experience with physical pain due to several automobile accidents. She stated, “As recovering addicts, we must inform doctors of our disease and remind them that we cannot be prescribed opioids, or we run the risk of a relapse.” She’s advocating for the approval of other pain remedies that do not include opioids, such as massage therapy, hypnotherapy, acupuncture, etc. to help manage pain and prevent opioid addiction. Her dream is to become a spokesperson for addiction and pain management and travel between recovery institutions teaching that there are alternative treatments and reducing the number of relapses in her community.

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Ray Lay


Indianapolis, IN

Ray Lay is a formerly homeless, honorably discharged retired and disabled US Marine living with a dual diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder and polysubstance use issues. Today, Ray is over 16 years clean and sober and a home and business owner.

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Bob Jordan


Greenacres, FL

Bob is a person in long-term recovery (37 years and counting). Most of his professional life has been spent in the treatment field attempting to open the door for recovery for others. He’s also a part of the LGTBQIA+ community.




Indianapolis, IN

John, a Certified Addiction Peer Recovery Coach and current student majoring in Social Work, is from Indianapolis, IN. He currently works in the behavioral health field as a Crisis Specialist. He has worked in the field for almost four years. He is a person in sustained recovery from substance use disorder. His passion is giving back, helping others find their own paths toward their recovery, and advocating for the importance of changing the stigma involving substance use disorder.

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Kourtney Simmons


Birmingham, AL

Kourtney is a person living in long-term recovery from an opioid use disorder. She is a Certified Recovery Support Specialist with a B.S. in Psychology, currently working as a Behavioral Health Clinical Care Coordinator. She is passionate about helping people who have experienced struggles with substance misuse find their pathway to peace and recovery. Her husband, Kenny, is also in long-term recovery from an opioid use disorder, and together they have two beautiful children.

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Ruth Stimac


Norton, OH

Ruth is a retired special education assistant who worked with special needs students for over 20 years. She has been a CPP (chronic pain patient) and mom to two sons who are affected by SUD (substance use disorder) for close to 20 years. Being affected by both has given her a unique perspective on these issues.

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D'Layna Reitz


Chillicothe, OH

I have been recovering 9 years from a dual diagnosis of SUD and MHI. I am a peer supporter as well as a family peer. I work with youth that have loved ones struggling or recovering from SUD or MHI. I work within my community as well with unsheltered individuals, and I hope with everything that I'm able to help one person with hope and to help change the stigma others have.

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Leonor Gualchi


Boulder, CO

Leonor has worked in mental health and substance use for the past 12 years. She is also a cancer survivor and was prescribed opioids for five years post treatment. She comes from a family with multiple co-occurring disorders and is passionate about recovery.

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Tonya Harris



Tonya has over thirty-three (33) years of abstinence-based long-term recovery. She's passionate about her recovery practices and has evolved into an open-minded practitioner who approaches solutions to care for those suffering from addiction with a thoughtful sense of compassion. She's traveled the country and shared about the rewards of recovery and her new way of life. She's also been fortunate to have traveled the world and seen recovery in many different cultures and languages. She currently works for a large behavioral health system in an urban city for the last 18 years and has worked in and around that city in every level of care, as well as community-based partnerships and delivery systems including large city institutional stakeholders. She has a Master of Science in Organizational Leadership and Management and a Master’s in Public Administration with concentrations in public policy and non-profit management. In 2002, she founded Kohnlinq, Inc., and more recently she founded WeKonnect, LLC, to further her (R&D) research and development at the intersection of addiction care delivery systems and technology. She has two adult sons, one grandson, and a large recovering community network across the country. She enjoys traveling and spending time with her people.


Panel Member



Bio coming soon!

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Valerie Velasco


Athens, OH

Valerie is a first-generation Guatemalan-American and a Ph.D. student in clinical psychology in Athens, OH. She was diagnosed with a chronic pain disorder at 15 years old. Additionally, Valerie has a family history of both chronic pain and substance use disorders, among other health concerns. Valerie's professional research involves the examination of the differential effects and risk factors of specific child maltreatment types on long-term outcomes. She is also interested in the evaluation of interventions involving children and families impacted by violence, such as child maltreatment, interpersonal violence, and community violence.

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Rod Robinson


Sheridan, WY


Enrolled member of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe

Mr. Robinson serves as the Bureau of Indian Affairs Office of Justice Services Deputy Associate Director of the Diversion and Re-entry Division within the Field Operations Directorate.

Mr. Robinson has over 40 years of experience as a clinician, administrator, educator, and policymaker, serving Native communities and addiction recovery programs throughout the United States.  Over these many years, he has participated as an addiction and recovery subject matter expert for many tribes within Indian Country, as well as several States and Federal initiatives.

His expertise and passion are in building solution-focused integrated service delivery systems that interface with all community service disciplines. He has worked with numerous agencies and programs to prepare for the design and implementation of automated court and human service case management systems, has conducted comprehensive strategic planning initiatives, board and administrative infrastructure development, clinical services system design, managed care environments, staff supervision training and other topics relevant to recovery in Indian Country.

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Additional Panel member photos and bios coming soon!

About HEAL Connections

Research results need to benefit people living with pain, addiction, and other co-occurring conditions but too often are not shared with people working outside of universities. HEAL Connections believes that lived experience expertise has been missing from research conversations. We want to partner with impacted communities to speed research into action by communicating research findings in ways that everyone can understand. Learn more here

HEAL Connections is a center that is jointly run by Duke Clinical Research, George Mason University, and other partners. It is funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) through the Helping to End Addiction Long-term® Initiative, or NIH HEAL Initiative®. HEAL Connections is aimed at supporting widespread dissemination and implementation of HEAL-funded research. HEAL Connections is funded by the NIH HEAL Initiative under OTA numbers: 1OT20D034479 and 1OT2OD034481. 

About the HEAL Initiative

The Helping to End Addiction Long-term® Initiative, or NIH HEAL Initiative®, is a research effort funded by the National Institutes of Health (a government agency) to better understand poorly treated pain, opioid misuse, addiction, and overdose. HEAL-funded research is meant to make a difference in the lives of individuals and communities across America. Learn more here

Contact us!

If you are interested in being considered for future Lived Experience Panel openings or if you would like to receive periodic emails from the organizers of the Lived Experience Panel, please send us a message using the form below.

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