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Mobile health unit for addiction recovery, treatment officially launched in Malvern

MALVERN. -- A mobile health unit designed to connect underserved rural communities with addiction treatment services officially launched on Monday morning at the Second Baptist Church in Malvern.

Despite the official launch, the Arkansas Mobile Opioid Recovery (ARMOR) vehicle has been traveling to and operating in the Malvern and London community since mid-March, to finalize all the details of the clinic and establish a presence in those communities.

The launch of the unit has been a goal two years in the making for Dr. Kristin Martin, director of ARMOR, who said transportation is the biggest barrier to recovery care in the state.

For people who live in rural areas, the average distance to get treatment is 40 miles and it can be even farther for those looking for specialized treatment like addiction or mental health care, Martin said.

"I've been a single mom before and it's one of those things that if it's a choice between feeding my kids and putting food on the table or driving an hour each direction once a week or once a month, I'm going to choose my kids," she said.

Martin added that throughout her 15 years of work with addiction treatment patients, she has seen deaths due to a lack of access to addiction treatment that otherwise would have been treatable.

"I can tell you what it looks like whenever somebody doesn't have access to addiction medicine services ... It looks like me calling a 19-year-old's parents and telling them that there was a preventable solution, but we didn't make it there in time," she said.

So far the unit has seen 80 patients between the two towns, and starting on Tuesday the clinic will add Morrilton and Danville to their list of communities that they visit every other week, Martin said.

She said that they hope to continue to expand the ARMOR network, not only with more community partners but eventually more mobile units.

Inside the ARMOR mobile clinic are three exam rooms, one of which doubles as a laboratory where the staff can draw blood, and a bathroom.

According to the website, those looking for treatment can receive opioid addiction assessments, onsite medical consultations, individualized treatment planning, counseling and peer recovery services and follow-up care.

Tucker Martin, an executive board member of ARMOR, agreed that transportation has been one of the main issues for patients seeking recovery, and that the mobile clinic is their "practical solution," to meet patients where they are.

"Transportation is a huge obstacle when you're trapped in a cycle of active addiction. It's really hard to get across town and it's certainly hard to travel from one town to another to find care," Tucker Martin said at the launch.

He added that addiction is a chronic condition that can be treated like other conditions but that the stigma surrounding it can prevent people from getting care.

"They're not bad people trying to become good people, they're very simply sick people who need to get well," Tucker Martin said.

"...When there's a return to use or the symptoms of this disorder arise, our natural tendency unfortunately is to look at those people with a bit of shame .... We want to reach those people and treat them with dignity and respect, because they deserve that," he said.

The nonprofit clinic was established after receiving a grant of $770,000 in November from the state attorney general's office, as a part of Attorney General Tim Griffin's larger goal of opioid abatement that's funded by the state's opioid settlement fund.

Griffin was also in attendance and delivered remarks at the official launch. He spoke about the investment choices the attorney general's office has made towards opioid abatement.

Griffin said that although they have invested funds in distributing the opioid antagonist Narcan, which he called an "ephemeral item," he wanted to focus on long-term investments while he is in office.

"I wanted to focus the core of our spending on brick and mortar, research, inpatient and outpatient, those sorts of things, so that we would be investing in something that in 10, 20, 30, 40, even a hundred years from now, would still be potentially having an impact, because this problem is not going away," he said.

My Ly is a Report for America Corps member.


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