“April marks the first year anniversary of The Mobile Addiction Treatment Team, known as MATT’s Van operated by Bridges Healthcare, Inc.,” said John Dixon, president and CEO. “We are pleased to share that there have been many successes in expanding treatment with street-side services to those who desperately need help. We are especially proud to celebrate this milestone with one of our first clients, Sarah, who achieved one year in recovery from opioid use disorder on April 7. Sarah is sharing her experience and wants to let those who are struggling with opiod use disorder know that “It gets easier.”

MATT’s Van hit the streets last year with funding from the CT Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, as an innovative response to the opioid crisis. “Our goal from the start was to save lives,” said Bridges’ Medical Director, Dr. Tara Kerner. “In order to do that we knew we had to reduce the barriers to treatment, offering a way for individuals to step forward for help without having to make an appointment and wait to be seen at a clinic. Even though we had fast-tracked appointments for our office-based MAT program, people who had made the decision to get help still had a waiting period. For some, this meant they had to continue using during that wait, or experience the extreme discomfort of withdrawal. That period of time is critical, as the fear and sickness is so severe that even those highly motivated to stop using will do so in order to halt the withdrawal. The medication we prescribe quickly eliminates withdrawal symptoms and reduces cravings, giving people the chance to recover.”

In its first year of operation, MATT’s Van more than doubled the number of clients Bridges has in treatment for opioid use disorder. Starting a regimen of medication, primarily Buprenorphine, combined with therapy, case management and mutual support groups has proven to be the most effective model in treating OUD. The rate of retention in treatment at Bridges is also high, as the treatment team maintains close contact with the client throughout the process. “Chris, our Peer Recovery Coach, is a tremendous asset to this program,” said Dr. Kerner. “He has deep compassion for his clients and those who want to start treatment, and the knowledge of what it takes to make it work.”

For Sarah, MATT’s Van was the answer she was seeking after a decade of opioid use. Sarah had been prescribed pain medication for a medical condition. “Even as I needed increasingly more pills to manage the pain, I thought, if the doctor prescribed it, it must be ok,” Sarah said. “Eventually, I accepted that I was completely dependent on the drug. Admitting you have an opioid problem feels illegal. Being able to get help quickly from MATT’S Van made it so much easier to start the process.”

Throughout her active use of opioids, Sarah continued raising a family with her husband of 17 years, until, she said “It became all consuming. You reach a point where the only thing that matters is getting enough pills to get through the day, the hour, every single situation. I could no longer function without opioids. I wanted to stop and get my life back, but I was afraid.” By the time Sara entered treatment, she was taking 30-40 pills a day. “When I could not get a doctor’s prescription, I turned to a sort of network of other users to keep me supplied. Trading is common.”

On her one year anniversary of sobriety, Sarah is managing the stress of the Covid-19 epidemic, overseeing the online schoolwork of three of her four children at home, with one computer. Despite the many challenges, she is focused and determined. Her husband’s job put him at very high risk for exposure to the virus. He has just stopped working, but they are worried about their chances of being infected, and the financial impact they are facing, like so many others.

Yet, Sarah is grateful for the help she receives from Bridges, and she hopes sharing her story will help others. Her history of trauma and family problems are triggers she has learned to recognize and manage. She and her family engage in therapy at Bridges, and she credits her team of Dr. Kerner, the peer recovery coach, case manager and others for her success. “This program is the best,” said Sarah. “The team sticks with you every step of the way, making sure you have all the supports you need to find your way back and maintain sobriety. It’s the hardest thing you’ll ever do, but the most rewarding and fulfilling. You get your life back.”

NOTE: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, MATT’S Van currently is not on location in West Haven or Milford but is still offering all its services via telehealth. To access treatment call 203-494-5811.