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Mobile units help expand treatment for opioid addiction

Two specially-equipped large vans now allow health professionals to take opioid treatment on the road, expanding access to those battling addiction.

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- After just a few months in operation, BestSelf Behavior Health's two mobile outreach units are already making a difference in fighting the opioid epidemic. It's a unique approach to tackling a severe problem.

"We're very encouraged just by the people we're encountering," said CEO Howard Hitzel. "A lot of these are folks who really haven't been in treatment for a while who have been discouraged, and they are responding to us."

The mobile units are large vans equipped with technology to enable people who are addicted to opioids to get treated by medical professionals, either in person or via webcam.

Patients can walk away with a prescription for medication to help treat the addiction.

"Delay is problematic," Hitzel said. "Ready accessibility to medication-assisted treatment has made the big difference."

Each mobile unit is also equipped with three team members: a nurse, a counselor, and a peer specialist, like Mona Lisa McEachin, who battled drug addiction for years before focusing her career on helping others.

The peer specialists have been key to the program's success.

"These are people in recovery, and I think what's unique about them is they've been there," Hitzel said.

You'll find the mobile units throughout Erie and Niagara Counties, including outside emergency rooms and jails.

"It was really important for us to try to look for a way to have that soft handoff to make sure that the recovery continued after the release," said Deputy Chief Daniel Engert with the Niagara County Sheriff's Office.

Bus stations and libraries are often targeted as well.

"Our team is very adapt at kind of knowing communities or area where people who have substance abuse problems are, so they'll do street outreach essentially," Hitzel explained.

The units are used in urban, suburban and rural areas throughout Western New York.

The mobile outreach units attracted the attention of NBC Nightly News, which just profiled the program.

Hitzel said he's consistently fielding questions from organizations across the state and even beyond, looking to duplicate this innovative way to identify and treat those addicted to opioids.

"I don't think anybody is doing the mobile units like we are, the fully mobile office," Hitzel said. "I think that these kinds of efforts where we're really being more assertive about finding people are going to help a lot."