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Mobile addiction unit aims to bring services where needed

One of the region's major behaviorial health groups is rolling out two mobile units today to bring addiction treatment to where it's needed.

The idea is simple: Drive a team that includes physicians, nurses, counselors and peer support services to rural parts of Erie and Niagara counties, to jails and other locations, helping fill gaps in access to substance abuse counseling and addiction treatment.

The two unmarked recreational vehicles operated by BestSelf Behavioral Health are designed inside as treatment centers for people addicted to opioids, including heroin and prescription painkillers.

"There are areas where people have difficulty getting counseling and treatment, and we have to find alternative ways to reach them," said Tracy LeBlanc, spokeswoman for BestSelf, the name of the organization that formed from the 2017 merger of two longtime area organizations – Child & Adolescent Treatment Services and Lake Shore Behavioral Health.

Health officials say prescription medications like buprenorphine, combined with counseling, can reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms. But finding a doctor who offers what's known as medication-assisted treatment can be difficult.

Opioids include the illegal drug heroin, as well as powerful pain relievers available by prescription, including oxycodone, hydrocodone and fentanyl. Their abuse has led to alarming increases in overdoses and deaths. Erie County recorded 103 opioid-related deaths in 2012 but 301 in 2016. An estimated 316 people died of opioid overdoses in Erie County last year, although many of the cases are awaiting confirmation by tests.

BestSelf received a $1.7 million grant to buy the RVs and for other aspects of its Recovery Connections program. The vehicles are to be unveiled this afternoon in an event with Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in September announced the availability of $25.2 million in federal funding for addiction-related initiatives in 16 counties. The projects include mobile treatment, telehealth capabilities, and the expansion of medication-assisted treatment, as well as support for prevention and recovery programs.

The funding was awarded to the state through the Opioid State Targeted Response grant program administered by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

The 16 counties, including Erie and Niagara in Western New York, are considered high-need based on the number of their overdose deaths related to the use of opioids.

LeBlanc said services provided by the vehicles will be available regardless of ability to pay.

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