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New York is leveraging transportation to combat the worsening opioid crisis

  •   3 min read
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Across the United States, the opioid crisis has significantly worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic: 100,000 Americans died of drug overdose in the 12 month period from April 2020 to 2021, the first time that drug-related deaths have surpassed six figures a year. 

In New York State alone, overdose deaths increased 20% from April 2020 to 2021. Equally alarming is the persistent gap between the availability of effective care for opioid use disorder and individuals’ ability to access it. In 2018, more than 80% of people nationwide with an addiction were not receiving treatment. New York is working to close this gap by tackling one of the most significant barriers to accessing care: transportation. 

During recent high-profile strategy discussions, state decision-makers have focused increasingly on transportation’s role in the recovery journey. The New York State Senate Joint Task Force on Opioids, Addiction, and Overdose Prevention recently sought public input on how to remediate the state’s worsening opioid crisis, inviting advocates, public health officials, and community stakeholders to testify. Via’s Director of Government Affairs & Policy, Ya-Ting Liu, testified on the importance of providing reliable, low-cost connections to recovery services: “We believe that treatment can only be effective if people in need of services can get to them, and that access to treatment should not be predicated on access to a personal vehicle.” Rather than solely focusing on increasing spend on treatment programs — New York already has one of the largest opioid treatment footprints in the country — Liu argued that better transit connections to existing recovery services could move the needle on the state’s opioid overdose rate, 23rd in the country

Debate over the relative impact of various interventions is occurring at a pivotal moment in New York’s opioid crisis: the state is set to receive up to $1.5 billion to combat the epidemic from legal settlements reached with drug manufacturers and distributors. Now, the state must decide how to allocate the funds. Many policymakers, including Sen. Pete Harkham, co-chair of the Joint Task Force on Opioids, Addiction, and Overdose Prevention, are championing initiatives to increase access to medication and treatment, including transportation.     

Transit can positively influence recovery at any point in an individual’s journey, from the time that individual receives a treatment referral, decides to seek care for the first time, or attends ongoing appointments. 

In the beginning stage of recovery, transportation can facilitate immediate and safe access to a treatment facility or crisis response advocate. Once enrolled in a treatment program, transportation is shown to reduce missed or late appointments, which, in turn, improves treatment adherence, retention, and positive health outcomes. Finally, transportation is also critical for transitions to long-term recovery, a phase in which over 80% of individuals relapse, by providing access to jobs, support groups, and other components of independent living. As Meghan Grela, a Strategist for Via’s Health group summarized at the Friends of Recovery annual New York State Recovery Conference, “Transportation not only enables access to the full continuum of rehabilitation, but also improves the quality of recovery.” 

To implement transit across the entire recovery journey, innovative cities and organizations are  leveraging Via’s transportation technology. Via’s TransitTech powers public transportation services around the globe, and can be optimized for almost any use case: first- and last-mile transit services, paratransit programs, non-emergency medical transport (NEMT), and more. Via provides a  software platform upon which cities, transit agencies, hospitals, and health departments can quickly scope and implement transit programs that are tailored to benefit the community. Via’s software is being used at different stages of the recovery journey, from equipping peer advocates with ride hailing apps so they can book on-demand rides for individuals attending treatment for the first time to enabling clinic staff to pre-schedule rides for patients’ subsequent follow-up appointments.

Interested in learning more about how to help your community increase access to opioid or substance use disorder care? Reach out to our team at partnerships@ridewithvia.com. We’re here to help. 

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