'Time is critical': Van that brings opioid treatment to Milford, Greater New Haven expanding service area

MILFORD — When a person who is addicted to opioids decides they want help, the help needs to happen immediately, according to Marcy Hotchkiss of Bridge Healthcare.

“Time is critical when an individual makes the decision to reach out for help, so not having to call a clinic, wait for an appointment, and get to the clinic while experiencing the sickness and cravings that withdrawal causes is key,” she said. “The desired impact is to save lives by giving people with opioid use disorder quick and easy access to treatment.”

The solution is to bring treatment to the patient, Hotchkiss said. For Milford-based Bridges, that takes the form of the Mobile Addiction Treatment Team service, or MATT’s Van.

First launched in 2019, the van takes treatment to the community, parking in areas of high need throughout New Haven County.

Across Connecticut, opioid addiction continued to be a problem in 2020. A Connecticut Department of Public Health monthly report on drug overdoses, which was based on data from the state Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, showed that from January through December 2020, there were 1,359 confirmed fatal drug overdoses, a 13.3 percent increase over 2019, with 78 pending cases awaiting toxicology confirmation as of last month.

In 2020, fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, was involved in 85 percent of Connecticut’s accidental drug overdose deaths, compared with 82 percent in 2019.

For Bridges, a $50,000 grant from the Connecticut Association of Realtors Foundation means the van can expand its hours and service area, Hotchkiss said.

“MATT’s Van is primarily funded by the Connecticut Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, but those funds do not cover the cost to staff the van and services and have it on the road full-time,” Hotchkiss said. “They (the Realtors Foundation) did a big fundraising push last year due to the overdose death of a member’s son.”

The fundraiser, which included a Keith Urban concert at Mohegan Sun, allows Bridges to have the van on the road Monday through Thursday, in addition to providing telephone support service on Fridays.

Those who seek service from the van will receive a full regimen of treatment, according to Dr. Tara Kerner, medical director at Bridges.

“A regimen of medication, combined with therapy, case management and mutual support groups, has proven to be the most effective model in treating opioid use disorder,” Kerner said.

That means that in addition to prescriptions for the opioid treatment drug Suboxone, which reduces withdrawal symptoms, clients also can get access to a peer counselor, a Narcan overdose-reversal kit, referral to a treatment center such as Bridges, and a ride to a pharmacy to fill their prescription.

The van’s schedule is Mondays from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Beth-El Center, 90 New Haven Ave. in Milford; Tuesdays from 10 a.m. to noon at La Quinta Inn, 400 Sargent Drive in New Haven, and 1 to 5 p.m. on the West Haven Green; Wednesdays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Saving Rock Parkade, 228 Captain Thomas Blvd., West Haven, and 1 to 5 p.m. on the West Haven Green; Thursdays from 9 to 11 a.m. on the New Haven Green and 2 to 4 p.m. at Fairbank Apartments, 355 Ferry St., New Haven. Peer support is available all other times Monday through Friday by calling 203-494-5811.

Individuals seeking treatment can approach the van or call the number on the side, Hotchkiss said.

“They have a discussion of the person’s needs. The person is connected via telehealth for a prescription for Suboxone, Buprenorphine and Naloxone, to help mitigate cravings for opiates and the illness that comes from drug withdrawal,” she said.

The person also would be engaged in therapy, medication management and case management as appropriate.

After the initial contact, the recovery coach will stay in contact with the client for three months, providing the client with “support of someone who has lived experience and can relate to the individual’s concerns and hopes for recovery,” Hotchkiss said.

The van is limited to travel to locations in Milford, West Haven and New Haven, but will provide services to anyone from any city who needs them.