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Mobile addiction units serve rural towns to help those with addiction

Posted at 3:12 PM, Nov 16, 2020

A group of specialized Winnebago RVs are traveling to the rural areas in Colorado. And while they may look like your standard RV on the outside, on the inside they are a safe haven for those trying to overcome addiction.

These mobile addiction units are equipped with people who can help: a nurse, counselor, and peer support. They travel to areas that are experiencing opioid addiction the worst.

“We were having trouble getting access to the folks that really needed it in rural communities,” said Dr. Jeremy Dubin, an addiction medicine physician and medical director at Front Range Clinic. “The idea that we can now get to these communities that don't actually have providers there, that can help them with their addictions has been basically a boon to how we’re approaching this and hopefully treating it.”

It helps people like Susan, who lives in a rural town that one of the mobile addiction units visits weekly.

“I've been homeless since March,” she explained. “I've been prescribed opiates since I was 19, and I’m 33.”

She says it’s very helpful that she gets the attention and one-on-one time the unit provides.

The Front Range Clinic has four grant-funded mobile units traveling in different rural areas across the state. It's an idea they modeled after a similar program in New York.

“When we get to these communities we’re really trying to help them medically, to stabilize things,” Dr. Dubin said.

“Addiction is not a death sentence, it’s a brain disease,” Donna Goldstrom, clinical director at Front Range Clinic, said.

Goldstrom explained that the state’s office of behavioral health put out a grant over a year ago for six units in six regions of Colorado. Front Range Clinic won four of the units, and they now serve the rural areas outside of Greeley, Colorado Springs, Pueblo, and Grand Junction.

“To bring access to folks who previously did not have access to treatment, and to hopefully help them start a life of recovery and start their recovery process with the help of medications for addiction treatment,” Goldstrom said.

So far, their four units have helped 240 patients just like Susan, as well as mother and daughter Rhonda and Dacia.

“I was a heroin addict for 13 years,” Rhonda said. “We just made some wrong decisions that ended up costing us a lot of time in our life.”

One day, they decided to make a change.

“Tired of looking for the pills. The money we spent on pills, so much money. We just decided enough was enough,” the mother-daughter duo described.

The two have been visiting the unit since August.

“It’s a new life for us, so we need help to guide us through to that,” Rhonda said.

That’s exactly what this mobile unit trio does: take in patients and provide them with the support of a nurse, telehealth doctor visits, counseling, and peer support.

“We can help with parents--whether it’s alcohol, meth, opioids, whether they are homeless or married with five kids. Whatever their situation, we’re able to help them,” Christi Couron, the nurse on the mobile unit, said.

“It’s a one-stop shop,” Tonja Jimenez, the peer support specialist on the mobile unit, said.

This year, they encountered a hurdle. COVID-19 has put even more obstacles in the way of those breaking the cycle of addiction.

“What all those use disorders are, are symptoms of more anxiety in society, more depression, more despair, and we all know COVID has increased all those amounts,” said Dr. Donald Stader, an emergency physician at Swedish Medical Center.

He explained there could be an increase of 10 to 30 percent in drug overdoses this year from last.

“We’ve definitely forgotten about the opioid epidemic which has continued to worsen in the shadow of the COVID epidemic,” Dr. Stader said.

The workers on the mobile unit do what they can to help, day after day driving this roving clinic to help those in need, especially during an increased time of isolation.

“We’re here to do all we can for whoever we can,” Jimenez said.