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ACR Health offers bridge program to help addicts while they wait for treatment

Ellen Abbott
A clinic at ACR Health in Syracuse will allow drug addicts to get some help while waiting to get into a treatment program

The continuing opioid crisis in central New York is forcing one Syracuse-area agency to expand services. The expansion will allow ACR Health to serve more individuals addicted to opioids in its Drug Users Health Hub.

Alexandra Punch is ACR Health’s first Director of Drug User Health. She says expanding existing services is a direct result of an opioid crisis that seems to be here to stay.

“It’s a huge problem and we’re seeing that it’s not going away,” said Punch. “And what we’re also seeing is the amount of individuals that are learning about buprenorphine treatment."

Buprenorphine, which is also known as Suboxone, is a medication that stops opioid cravings and helps addicts start the road to recovery. ACR Health helps by offering the drug for a short period of time to individuals who are waiting for treatment programs to begin.    

“There’s a large demand that for it that just can’t be met by treatment facilities or primary care providers alone,” said Punch. “So we’ll be able to be the conduit between someone who’s interested in outpatient treatment, but there’s a waitlist, so they can come to us and we can bridge them until they’re able to get into treatment.”

Punch says it’s gotten to the point where drug dealers are actually sending users to her for help. She tells the story of one man who wanted to start treatment, but had to wait two weeks for a doctor’s appointment.

“He had already started going through withdrawal and he thought he couldn’t make it two weeks,” she said. “So he decided to go to his drug dealer. He only had five dollars. And the drug dealer was like ‘I’m not giving you anything for five dollars. You need to go to ACR. They give you Suboxone’.”

Along with expanding the Suboxone bridge program, Punch says there will now be a mental health counselor available five days a week at the ACR Health Clinic, along with more help linking individuals to substance abuse treatment programs. The agency is also expanding its training for Naloxone, an antidote for individuals who are overdosing.