2017-02-22 / Front Page

Help for addicted in their own neighborhoods

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Mobile unit to offer needles, naloxone, hope
By TAMMY WELLS
Senior Staff Writer

SANFORD — Sometime toward the end of next month, a mobile unit will be making the rounds of some local neighborhoods, offering up clean needles and syringes and the overdose antidote naloxone.

The mobile unit being put on the road by the nonprofit Choopers Foundation, will also be equipped to offer testing for diseases that can come as a result of shared needle usage, like HIV and hepatitis. As well, folks staffing the van will outline available treatment options to folks who are looking to kick the opioid habit.

The foundation, co-founded by Tim Cheney and Adrian Hooper, is looking to make a difference in neighborhoods where heroin and fentanyl flourish.

Cheney said the foundation will be picking up the tab for naloxone, and clinical assessments will be done in collaboration with Grace Street Services, which offers medication-assisted treatment and intense outpatient therapy for opioid addiction. Cheney is also a partner in Grace Street Services, which recently opened its doors in a south Sanford industrial park. Grace Street Services also has locations in Lewiston and Portland.

“There is no revenue stream with this (mobile unit),” said Cheney. “This is totally to keep people alive and somewhat healthy until they can come into treatment.”

Sanford Police Chief Tom Connolly called the mobile unit “a good thing.”

“The outreach in the community is great, if we’re talking about connecting people with drug treatment. It is one more more piece in the puzzle that is beneficial and we’ll have some positive effect no matter what,” said Connolly on Monday. “If we keep a number of  people from sharing needles and syringes, that is a good thing. It's one less person transferring a virus that’s there with you the rest of your life.”

Sanford Police, in collaboration with Maine Behavioral Health, is working on rolling out its own drug treatment program; the city last year learned it was awarded a $190,000 state grant to help fund evidence-based, medication-assisted recovery. Connolly hopes for an early March opening.

According to a Feb. 19 Associated Press story, Daniel Raymond, policy director for the national advocacy group Harm Reduction Coalition, said on-the-ground programs like the mobile unit meet drug users where they are and connect them with services.

"They're often the one kind of program in a community that is able to intervene early before people end up in the emergency department or morgue," Raymond told the AP.  

Cheney describes himself as a recovering addict of 35 years. Addicted to heroin at an early age, he said he was on methadone maintenance for 13 years, and has been in abstinence-based recovery ever since.

His career includes stints as director of research for the City of Boston Drug Treatment Program and program director at the Community Correctional Center in New Haven, Connecticut. He earned a Lifetime Achievement Award from the President’s Call to Service, among other achievements, he said in a 2016 Journal Tribune interview. As well, he is a member of the Maine Substance Abuse Services Commission.

The Chooper Foundation is also about to roll out a new overdose warning network that can show communities’ overdose rates in real time, Cheney said.

As to the mobile unit, Cheney said he’ll collaborate with Connolly on locations in town where the unit would be most effective.

The unit will be a pilot project in Sanford. Cheney said once the foundation gets a sense of community response, it can be rolled out to other areas.

— Senior Staff Writer Tammy Wells can be contacted at 324-4444 (local call in Sanford) or 282-1535, ext. 327 or twells@journaltribune.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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