PROVIDENCE – More Rhode Islanders died of accidental drug overdoses in 2021 than any year on record, and the trend into 2022 shows no signs of abating.
The state’s largest outpatient provider for drug treatment announced Monday that it’s launching a new treatment option to help turn that tide: an RV-like mobile unit that will dispense medication to treat people who want to stop using drugs.
“Access to care is more important than ever amid our soaring overdose rates,” Linda Hurley, the president and CEO of CODAC Behavioral Healthcare, said in a news release Monday. “This mobile medical unit will allow us to face that challenge, both geographically and demographically.”
The 27-foot vehicle, was funded through a grant by the Champlin Foundation. It has a dispensary, examination and treatment room, a counseling room, a waiting area, a bathroom, and a security system. It will be able to dispense medication for opioid use disorder including methadone, as well as treatment with buprenorphine and naltrexone. Taken together with counseling, these medication-assisted treatments can reduce cravings and block some of the effects of short-acting opioids like heroin.
Under the federal regulations, the unit will operate as an opioid treatment provider dispensing methadone in the Community Care Alliance’s parking lot in downtown Woonsocket. It will be able to operate other places, like Pawtucket and Providence, without dispensing methadone, but it will be able to provide things like counseling, buprenorphine, or even health screenings.
In 2007, according to published reports, the federal government all but halted approvals of what are often referred to as mobile methadone clinics. In 2021, the Biden administration announced a streamlining of those rules, which would allow opioid treatment programs to operate a mobile component. Some legacy mobile clinics still exist, but according to CODAC, theirs is among the first in the nation to launch its van after the relaxation of those rules last year.
The data in Rhode Island show an escalating crisis in drug overdoses: In 2021, 435 people died of accidental drug overdoses in the state. That trend has continued into 2022. Every month so far this year has surpassed or nearly surpassed the highest total for that month on record, even though the data hasn’t been finalized yet, with some potential deaths remaining to be confirmed.
“A key element of our response to the opioid overdose crisis is meeting people where they are,” Governor Dan McKee said in a news release. “This new mobile medical unit from CODAC Behavioral Health does just that.”
Brian Amaral can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @bamaral44.