By Greg Hitchcock (Mohawk Valley Compass, Sept. 4, 2018)
Heroin use is sometimes triggered by abusing pain medication. Many have battled this growing epidemic with limited resources including the city of Amsterdam, New York.
For Amsterdam-area residents struggling with opioid addiction, getting help can be difficult. In addition to getting past the fear of stigmatization associated with the problem, sufferers face other hurdles such
as a busy job schedule, lack of transportation, or childcare responsibilities that can keep them from getting to appointments for services they need.
On Friday, Chad Putman and Nydia Hill of New Choices Recovery Center talked about their roles in an innovative project that brings treatment services to area patients through the use of mobile offices.
The project operates from six field offices in Montgomery, Saratoga, and Schenectady counties, including one based inside the Riverfront Center in Amsterdam, NY which has been in operation for nine months now.
Putman, the project director, works with Hill, a peer advocate, as part of a multidisciplinary team of physicians, nurses, health professionals, and case-workers offering comprehensive substance use disorder treatment and intervention planning.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 64,000 people in the United States died from drug overdoses in 2016. Two thirds of those deaths were a result of prescription or illicit use of opioids.
“We wanted to do something different, because the traditional treatment approach programs out there were not working,” said Putman.
“A lot of the traditional methods of treatment have walk-in hours to do assessments, but people don’t have means of getting there or they lack health insurance, or they face other barriers,” Putman said. “The main concept behind our project is to provide mobile treatment programs. We are a treatment program without walls.”
Putman said the project has cars for each county, as well as vans that serve as mobile offices.
“We can meet the individuals where they are, assist them with transportation, and we can work with people without insurance,” he said. “The idea is to get people connected to treatment as quickly as possible.”
After initial assessments with a nurse and a social worker, medications are administered to help opioid users abstain from their addictions and are consulted by a doctor and physician’s assistant in Schenectady via teleconferencing (telehealth) in the satellite office or in the vans.
Putnam said that peer advocates also play a crucial role in getting help. For instance, they can transport an opioid user to an ambulatory detox program at St. Mary’s Hospital in Amsterdam, or St. Mary’s Hospital in Troy, so that they can begin treatment even before seeing a doctor associated with the
Peer advocates are certified case managers who work with opioid users in getting the help they need.
Often, case managers are people who have battled addiction themselves, or have had experience involving friends or relatives.
Hill, a peer advocate, is bilingual and although she works with anyone, she primarily works with the Latino community of Montgomery County. Hill said one of the things that attracted her to working with the project is her own long-term abstinence from substance use she once suffered from.
“I am a person in long-term recovery with 15 years away from a drug or a drink,” Hill said.
“This is my community. I know people here. I can’t go anywhere without someone saying ‘hi’ because I have lived here for 20 years,” she said. “People know me. They know I am recovering and know I had a substance use disorder.”
A second reason for joining the project is her belief that telehealth offers a better way of helping people addicted to opioids than the traditional setting.
“Sometimes in this area people only have a 30-minute lunch. We can go there and talk to the doctor using telehealth, get the prescription that they need, and they go back to work without losing time,” Hill said. “We have moms that cannot leave the house because they have young children.”
Hill said she is very outspoken about her recovery and lives her recovery out loud, explaining that the stigma of substance use prevents people from seeking help.
“When you stigmatize a person they hide and don’t seek treatment – and they die,” she said.