Founder and Executive Director, Learn to Cope Inc.
Joanne Peterson is the Founder and Executive Director of Learn to Cope (LTC), a non-profit peer-led support network which began in 2004. Joanne’s journey started as a young girl with siblings experiencing issues with mental illness and addiction. After years of watching family members struggle with opioid addiction, starting with prescriptions pills that were aggressively marketed and available to the unsuspecting public in the late 90’s, Joanne was motivated and empowered to use her voice to bring about change. She designed LTC to offer families the support, education, resources, and hope that her family would have benefited from.
Funded by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MADPH), Learn to Cope has grown to have a full staff who collaborate with communities across the state, spreading messages of prevention, education, awareness, and advocacy. LTC has 25 chapters throughout Massachusetts, a chapter in Florida, and a private, online forum that supports over 11,000 members. In each of these branches of LTC, families receive unique support and education from professionals and peers.
Through advocacy and awareness, Ms. Peterson collaborated with MADPH to become the first parent network in the country to provide the overdose reversal antidote nasal naloxone. Today, facilitators are trained and certified to provide overdose education and nasal naloxone kits at each Massachusetts chapter. This life saving education and medication that LTC members receive has successfully reversed over 200 opioid overdoses since December 2011.
With the growth and expansion of LTC, Joanne has been called upon by high-level government and law enforcement officials, coalitions, and educators to assist in their efforts to combat the opioid epidemic. In January 2015, Ms. Peterson was a guest of Senator Ed Markey at the White House State of the Union Address. Then, in October 2015, Ms. Peterson participated on a panel with Attorney General Maura Healey, Mayor Martin Walsh, and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton regarding the prescription drug and heroin crisis in Massachusetts. Later that year, she was a recipient of the Advocate for Action award presented by the Office of National Drug Control Policy. In 2016, Ms. Peterson was asked by Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker to participate as a panelist for the National Governor’s Association Health and Human Services Committee in Washington DC to discuss the nation’s opioid crisis. She was invited to the White House to participate in a discussion on the Administration’s efforts to address the opioid epidemic, held by Michael Botticelli, former National Drug Control Policy Director.
Ms. Peterson participated on the Massachusetts Health and Human Services Emergency Department working group along with the Governor’s Special Commission to investigate and study licensed addiction treatment centers for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. She is a board member of RIZE Massachusetts and chair of their Program Strategy committee. Joanne also had a seat on the Attorney General’s Interagency Task Force on Newborns with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome and is still on the Family Advisory Council for the Purdue Pharma Lawsuits. She is on the Advisory Boards of the National Child and Traumatic Stress Network as well as Harvard University’s Recovery Research Institute. She also serves on the MCAS (Massachusetts Coalition of Addiction Services) and HEAL Communities coalitions, Plymouth County DA Task Force Executive Committee, Norfolk County DA Coalition, Worcester County DA Task Force and the Drug Endangered children coalition.
In 2019, Ms. Peterson served as an impact board member for the Grammy and Tony nominated Broadway hit, “Jagged Little Pill”. She was brought in by Level Forward Productions, the producers and writers of the show, to work with the cast. She also previewed the show’s rehearsals to check for authenticity around the family dynamic and trauma of opioid addiction. The play is based on the 1995 Alanis Morissette album and Academy award winning writer Diablo Cody’s book.
In March 2020 when the world shut down due to the COVID 19 pandemic, Joanne led her team to quickly pivot all 25 LTC meetings to a virtual platform. In a remarkably short period of time, members and staff worked together to learn how to effectively use the Zoom platform. Within a few short weeks all meetings had the option to continue getting support online, this included training on using Narcan, and safely delivering it to members staying socially distant. During that time Joanne stepped into the world of interviewing guests on 11 live and well attended webinars. Some of the popular guests were Beth Macy, author of the bestselling book “Dopesick”, Dan Schneider from the Netflix show “The Pharmacist”, Vivek Tiwary, lead producer of the hit Broadway show “Jagged Little Pill” and many well known local experts on the science of addiction, healing the invisible wounds of trauma, etc.
In March 2021 Joanne took an oath of office to serve on the Opioid Recovery and Remediation Fund Advisory Council appointed by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey. Having worked with those harmed by the opioid crisis for over twenty years, she is proud to be the voice for families.
In August 2021 Joanne was chosen as one of CNN’S Champions for Change and filmed an interview at the Taunton office with nationally renowned Dr Sanjay Gupta. The interview aired in September and drew a large amount of attention to LTC as well as many new members from all over the country. In October 2021, Joanne started LTC’s first national Learn to Cope meeting on Zoom, offering the same peer support LTC has offered in Massachusetts for many years, a goal she has always wanted to achieve.