Turning to the Web to connect addicts with treatments
One in a series of occasional articles about opiate abuse and its consequences.
Daniel Tufo fields two to five calls a day from people seeking his help finding treatment for addiction to opioids like heroin, or painkillers like OxyContin.
Calling local facilities to see whether there is room for just one more addict seeking a place to detox, or to get further treatment, can take anywhere from an entire day to a week before a bed is found, said Tufo, a former OxyContin addict who has been sober for 7½ years.
The opioid epidemic gripping the state has created a bottleneck for accessing treatment beds in public facilities, a situation that can leave those seeking help in a dangerous uncertainty. The gap between the time addicts decide they want help and when they are able to enter a treatment program can be a matter of life and death, Tufo said.
“You have to call three to four places and get on a waiting list and call back at a certain time. And in the meantime, I’m working with a client, they might be willing one day, but the next day you might lose them,” he said. “They get disheartened. . . . They can overdose, or I just won’t hear from them again.”
Out of frustration and belief that there had to be an easier way, Tufo, who grew up in Quincy, decided to create an online database that would provide a real-time inventory of local treatment beds and waiting lists. Currently in the design and testing phase, the bed-finding system would allow substance-abuse and mental health facilities to update their status at one central site, streamlining the process for anyone looking for treatment.
Tufo, working with website developer Boston Web Group, is preparing to launch the site in February.
“I’m excited about the potential for it and helping the system,” he said. “My mission is helping somebody who’s in the position I was seven years ago. . . The process can be complicated; the main problem is the organization of the information.”
Treatment facilities will also be able to post when they can take calls for admissions or to put clients on waiting lists, he said.
The idea was well received by a group of about 300 people who attended an opiate education forum Dec. 3 at Braintree Town Hall, where Tufo, 30, was a featured speaker. Since his recovery, Tufo, who works for the state Division of Insurance, has dedicated himself to helping others beat their addictions. Through word of mouth, addicts have come to him for the past six years for help in finding treatment programs. Last summer, he started his own company, Recovery Adviser, as a free service for those seeking treatment.
Tufo said he announced the bed-finder concept in Braintree in order to encourage feedback from other recovery advisers and case workers.
“It’s a difficult landscape to navigate for myself, and the database I’m building . . . I would hope they find it useful,” he said. “It would allow them to say what insurance and networks they work with and if it’s a male facility or female facility.”
The site will be mobile-device friendly and will initially focus on facilities with programs covered by MassHealth, the state’s insurance plan for low- and moderate-income residents, and the one used by most addicts, Tufo said.
Kathy Deady, a member of the substance-abuse prevention program Impact Quincy, said while there is definitely a treatment-bed shortage in Massachusetts, she is not sure how helpful the bed-finder would be.
“When you’re in that position of being high and looking for somewhere to go, you’re not going to a website,” said Deady, who attended the Braintree forum. “If it works, I’m thrilled, I really am. I’m not saying he shouldn’t do it, but if there’s a bed available, it’s gone in five minutes.”
Her son Michael Deady, who has been sober for over four years after more than two decades of drug addiction , said a central database is a good idea, but he agreed that demand for beds, especially those for first-stage detox treatment, is so high that it is unlikely that they would ever be listed as available. With the winter settling in and the October closing of Boston’s Long Island shelter and treatment center that eliminated nearly 230 treatment beds, services are simply too strained, he said.
Still, he added, “if it helps one addict, I’m all for it and I’m behind this guy. I’ll be more than happy to help any way I can. The more services out there for people, the better.”
After the Long Island facility closed, the state lost 60 adult detoxification beds, 43 transitional support service beds, 110 adult recovery home beds, and 15 adolescent recovery home beds, according to the Department of Public Health.
As of Dec. 1, the state Bureau of Substance Abuse Services has licensed 811 adult detox beds; 297 clinical stabilization service beds; 198 beds for court-mandated civil commitments for treatment; 292 transitional support service beds; 2,171 adult recovery home beds; and additional inpatient programs for families and youths, according to the health agency.
In response to the opioid epidemic, Governor Deval Patrick declared a public health emergency and in June unveiled details of a $20 million plan that would, among other initiatives, increase the number of treatment beds in the state, including 64 in Quincy.
Tufo said he understands that the idea of an online bed-finder may be difficult to grasp for some people and that it could very well fail. “But we have to try something. We definitely have to try it,” he said.