On August 31, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a proclamation making that day Opioid Overdose Prevention Day in New York, ending the month before National Recovery Month started in September.
At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Cuomo asked mental health professionals to volunteer to help meet the needs of New Yorkers. More than 6,000 people answered that call — including Tildabeth Doscher, UB fellowship director of addiction medicine, who specializes in addiction medicine.
“At the same time because my focus is substance disorder and treatment I was concerned about what was going to happen with rehab facilities as COVID started entering them,” Doscher said “How were we going to protect the clients that were already there and those that became infected so that they can continue their treatment for their substance use disorder.”
That concern led Doscher to become interim medical director for Phoenix House, a rehab facility in New York City and Long Island when the medical director died suddenly.
But that same concern also led her to help in Western New York — including bringing the hub and spoke model, an opiate treatment model started in Vermont, here.
Hubs are facilities that intensively focus on opioid use disorder treatment options, and spokes are facilities that integrate addictions care into primary health care.
“At the hubs [are] where people bring their treatment for substance use disorder, at the hub they are provided with medical care, behavioral health care, social work, etc.,” Doscher said. “Once they’re stable, they’re sent out from the hub to a spoke practice. These are primary care doctors.”
The hub and spoke model has shown an increase in treatment access and a decrease in opioid overdoses and health care costs associated with substance use treatment for opioids in Vermont.
This model is funded through a five-year U.S. Health and Human Service grant, said Dr. Gale Burstein, the Erie County commissioner of health, at the most recent quarterly Erie County Opiate Epidemic Task Force Meeting.
Currently, there are 10 providers from six Buffalo area clinics including St. Vincent Health Center, Buffalo Medical Group, and Hertel Elmwood Internal Medicine Center.
Those receiving treatment through this model are also asked to find employment or volunteer employment, Doscher said.
Implementing this model couldn’t have come at a better time — three Western New York counties saw an increase in deaths by overdose during the height of the pandemic.
As of August 25, there have been 62 confirmed deaths by opioid overdose, with 134 pending deaths that need confirmation by the coroner’s office, Cheryll Moore, of Erie County's Opioid Task Force, said during the in August’s #1Am1in5 Facebook Live.
These numbers are to date and not reflective of the 2020 total. Many of these deaths are among older people, and due to fentanyl being found in cocaine.
“[With] the COVID pandemic we really asked people to isolate, to stay home, to stay away from other people to stop the transmission of the virus,” Moore said in Facebook Live. “At the same time the cohort that is struggling with opioid use disorder or substance use disorder — they followed the directions, they stayed home, they were alone and when they overdosed no one found them until too late.”
Loss of community and isolation are risk factors for those with substance use disorder, but Doscher suggests that creating social connections such as volunteer work outside of their recovery can be beneficial.
“I call it the grain of sanding,” Doscher said. “We act like the whole world is the grain of sand we exist on instead of, ‘wow, we’re actually on a beach.’ ”
Volunteerism helps provide people in recovery with a purpose and connection to a community — two of the four things that the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services (SAMHSA) says need to be successful in their recovery.
The other two include good health and having a stable and safe place to live.
The county offers a 24/7 addiction hotline at 716-831-7007 and you can receive free nalxone by texting 716-225-5473.
To learn more about the Erie County Opiate Epidemic Task Force, visit their website.