As overdoses rise, clinic meets a need

The ‘Safe Point Lighthouse’ mobile unit sits near Dunkirk City Hall.

According to a recent release from the Centers for Disease Control, deaths related to drug overdose went up almost 30% across the entire United States in 2020. The widespread issue is affecting areas all over, including in Dunkirk and places close to home.

In order to combat this problem, the non-profit Acacia Network is working in Dunkirk to help get people the resources they need. While they’re working to get a brick and mortar location set up in Dunkirk, for now, their mobile addiction treatment van is providing clients with the help they need. The “Safe Point Lighthouse” has an on-site nurse, counselor, and peer specialist to provide medically assisted treatment, counseling, relapse prevention, primary and mental health care, referrals when they’re needed, and much more. Acacia Network’s Upstate Senior Administrator Elizabeth Smith said that with the demand being so high, the mobile unit will look to move into other Chautauqua County areas.

“It’s currently in the city of Dunkirk Monday through Friday,” Smith said. “We’ve first targeted the Dunkirk area, but in the future, we’ll be expanding into other Chautauqua County areas with need.”

The 24-foot van is located at the City Court building on Monday and Thursday but is often travelling all around to clients who may need their help. Smith estimates that there are around 150 services just offered by the mobile unit, which has been pretty busy since it first appeared in Dunkirk in May. People can make appointments to visit the van, but they also accept walk ins for people who need services, and of course it travels to people as well.

“An average day is getting set appointments taken care of while our peers are out in the community outside of the mobile unit, providing fliers and information about the services being given,” Smith said. “If someone walks up and wants to access services, then they can right then and there. They can initiate screening and assessment, along with the counseling and referrals if needed. And of course it is a mobile unit, so it can get to someone or somewhere else.”

While there could be several reasons for the increase in drug overdoses, Smith theorizes that the problem has been amplified because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think it’s tied into the stress of COVID,” Smith said. “Isolation exacerbated existing issues and led to sharp increase in drug use as well as need for services during the pandemic. It added additional stress to whatever other issues people were dealing with.”

While the mobile unit has assisted in providing people service, being able to establish the permanent location will further provide clients with additional services. The most prevalent of those services being the use of methadone.

“The brick and mortar mean we’re able to provide additional medication for treatment options,” Smith said. “Especially methadone. In the mobile unit, we aren’t allowed to prescribe methadone, but being in person will allow us to.”

The permanent facility will also allow more people to get the treatment they need, from people all over Western New York. That facility is expected to be up and running near the end of September or early October and will be located at Main and Third streets.

In the meantime, the mobile unit will still be active serving residents of Dunkirk. The mobile unit also provides culturally competent services, as there are bilingual speakers on board. For people in need of services, the counselor phone number is 716-982-7335.

“We’re trying to make treatment more mobile so it can come to the people that need it instead of being stationed in certain locations,” Smith said.


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