Thursday, March 19, 2020

Colorado brings medication-assisted therapy for opioid users to rural areas with recreational-vehicle clinics

One of the RVs and two of its staff in Holyoke, Colorado.
(Photo by The Holyoke Enterprise)
Medication-assisted therapy (MAT) is widely acknowledged to be the most effective way to treat opioid addiction, but it can be difficult for rural residents to access it. Colorado is trying to make it a little easier by deploying six RVs to circulate among small towns with no access to MAT.

"Each RV will have a nurse, an addiction counselor and a peer coach who is in recovery from addiction," Jennifer Brown reports for The Colorado Sun. "The rigs — with satellite capacity — will use telehealth to connect a patient with a doctor who can write prescriptions" for the synthetic opioid buprenorphine. The RVs will also have a bathroom to collect urine samples, a nurse's station, and a private room for counseling sessions.

Buprenorphine can be prescribed for a month at a time, unlike methadone, which must be dispensed at clinics daily for those just beginning their recovery. That means the RVs can help more patients and cover more ground, Brown reports.

Three of the six RVs are already on the road, and the other three are still being retrofitted. "The goal is that each of the six vehicles eventually will see at least 50 patients per week, providing medication-assisted treatment for those who are addicted to heroin or prescription opioids," Brown reports. "Visits are by appointment or walk-in, and staff have been spreading the word at medical clinics, hospitals and shelters."

The RV staff say that being out-of-towners is an asset because it helps bring drug users out of the woodwork who wouldn't admit to locals that they needed help, Brown reports. That may help local leaders realize that their communities have an opioid problem and take action, said Robert Werthwein, director of the state Office of Behavioral Health. He had the idea for the RVs after hearing about a similar effort in New York state.

The Office of Behavioral Health in the Colorado Department of Human Services is funding the project with $6.7 million from a federal State Opioid Response grant. The grant has also paid for almost 42,000 overdose kits, provided naloxone to 16 county jails, helped open clinics, and trained doctors to prescribe buprenorphine.

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