Outreach Vans Increase Sobriety, Survival For People With Addiction

By Maggie Ethridge 06/25/19
The mobile outreach program provides Suboxone prescriptions, syringe exchange, health screenings, disease management and other free services for individuals who are homeless and struggling with addiction.
Outreach Van

The CareZONE van in Massachusetts is providing treatment and hope to those with addiction who are experiencing homelessness. Funded by The Kraft Center for Community Health at Massachusetts General Hospital and the GE Foundation, the goal of the program and the van is to bring preventative health care, addiction treatment, and harm reduction services to any person with addiction who wants it.

There are only six or so of these mobile treatment programs around the country, testing the effect of their services on the rate of overdose and recovery in the community.

The CareZONE van provides an impressive range of free services, including in-patient detox, medications for addiction treatment (such as Suboxone), Naloxone (Narcan), syringe exchange, health screenings, disease management and more. 

WYBR reported that the CareZONE team consists of experienced outreach workers, doctors and case managers. Dr. Jessie Gaeta, chief medical officer with the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program, works with compassion and patience as she earns the trust of her patients.

"We’re trying to let people know we’re not there to arrest them. We’re not there to clean up their encampment and kick them out," Gaeta told WYBR. "All we want to know is, do we have something you need and want, and if we do, great, here it is. And so we gradually build a relationship that way."

If the patient is willing, Gaeta treats infected injection sites, checks for heart and lung infections (common with certain drug addictions), and offers vaccinations as well as buprenorphine (the active ingredient in Suboxone), a drug that reduces opioid cravings. If Gaeta believes the patient may have a more serious condition, she requests that they come back to the van for a more extensive check-up.

According to those involved, the CareZONE van has been successful. WYBR reported that in its 18-month lifespan, 316 prescriptions for Suboxone have been supplied from the Care Zone van, and 90% of them are filled, with 78% of those being refills.

Dr. Andrew Kolodny, co-director of opioid policy research at Brandeis University, told WYBR that he believes this could be a solution. 

"Once [they're] in every county in the United States, there's a place somebody can go and get started on treatment for free, that same day," Kolodny affirmed, "that's when we'll really start to see overdose deaths come down, significantly."

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Maggie May Ethridge is the author of Atmospheric Disturbances: Scenes From a Marriage (Shebooks, 2014) and the recently completed novel, Agitate My Heart. She is a freelance writer published in Rolling Stone, VOX, Washington Post, The Guardian and many others. Find her at her blog Flux Capacitor or on LinkedIn or Twitter.