PATERSON, NJ – In few places is the scourge of opioid addiction as visible to the naked eye then in Paterson. Whether it’s the panhandler trying to collect a few dollars for their next fix, the addict slumped over a park bench with a needle protruding from their arm, or the regularity of violence that comes with the illegal drug trade, the battle line in the war against heroin extends to every corner of the city.
Despite what seems like overwhelming odds, Paterson officials have been fighting back, and, since July as part of a pilot project that put them in the running with 15 cities across the globe, including Cape Town, South Africa; Auckland, New Zealand; Istanbul, Turkey; Tunja, Colombia; and Amman, Jordan, have been refining, and more recently piloting, an initiative to bring Medication-Assistance Treatment (MAT) to addicts when they need it most.
As defined on an addiction focused page on the State of New Jersey’s website, MAT is the use of medications, often in combination with counseling and behavioral therapies, to provide a whole-patient approach to the treatment of substance use disorders.
“Opioid addiction has held Paterson back for too long,” Mayor Andre Sayegh told TAPinto Paterson soon after announcing that the city was selected as one of 50 to be in the running for a million dollar grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies to implement the program. “It is killing our residents, not just those putting needles in their arms but also those that engage in, or get trapped by, the violence that drug sales have brought to our streets.”
According to Ed Boze, Paterson’s Chief Innovation Officer, the Appropriated Medication Assisted Treatment Anytime Anywhere (AMATAA) Teledoc Pilot, or what is being referred to more colloquially as “Real Fix,” seeks to deal with directly with the core of the issue when it comes to getting clean.
“Those with an addiction trying to avoid withdrawal symptoms have two choices, scoring opioids or initiating Medication Assistance Treatment (MAT),” he said. Making this more challenging, he added, is the fact that initiating MAT is something that could take days or weeks.
Boze continued by saying that the program is built on the premise that “the time an addict is seeking help is the time help needs to be delivered.”
It is also an initiative Bloomberg Philanthropies described as one of “the boldest urban innovations of the past year.”
Earlier this month five patients took part in the test phase of the program, all of them having the addiction fighting medication delivered to their door in between 55 and 87 minutes, all short of the established goal of 90 minutes, or before the symptoms of withdrawal can kick in.
Perhaps even more importantly, Boze continued, “for the first time we have shown that getting medication and treatment for withdrawal can be quicker and easier than going out on the street and scoring illicit drugs.”
If successful in securing the additional grant dollars through the “Champion City” contest, Real Fix will be expanded in early 2022, with a helpline those seeking addiction treatment can call between 4:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m., the times, Boze said, when data shows overdoses are at their highest.
Not only does getting the medication to patients during this time matter to fend off the withdrawal symptoms which some have said “they fear more than death,” it also overcomes another obstacle to getting treatment.
As Boze described it, most treatment centers close at 3:00 p.m., and only accept patients early in the morning, he said, when “usage is at its lowest.”
Once the medication is in the patient’s hands, efforts are also made immediately to begin getting the individual into a more extensive treatment program, one that utilizes suboxone to fight the addiction, a factor that Boze said is important for long term recovery.
“Opioid addiction is the root cause of so many of the issues we face in Paterson, a challenge that requires not just bold and innovative ideas, but also strategic and strong action,” Sayegh said. “We knew that our data driven approach would work, now the numbers prove it.”
“Unfortunately there is no quick fix, but we are confident that Real Fix is the way forward.”