The Appalachian Regional Commission has awarded a major grant to what it calls an innovative pilot program for a region hit hard by the addiction crisis. The goal is to help people struggling with addiction get on the road to treatment, recovery, and – ultimately – employment.
People with substance use disorders can have trouble getting to addiction treatment, long-term recovery programs, and job opportunities if they don’t have access to reliable transportation, especially in rural areas.
ARC Federal Co-Chair Tim Thomas was in Huntington, West Virginia, Tuesday to announce a grant of more than $215,000 to a pilot program to connect these people with rides to important appointments.
“This is a big barrier to recovery for those that have begun that journey,” ARC Federal Co-Chair Tim Thomas said. “We’ve got to remove barriers like this.”
The ARC recently went on a listening tour around Appalachia to learn about the barriers to addiction treatment and long-term recovery. The lack of reliable transportation came up at each stop.
The Appalachian Transportation Institute at Marshall University and the Community Transportation Association of America will work with key partners to implement the program.
Three of the main components of the program are expanding mobility options, subsidizing rides, and training local addiction treatment providers to be mobility advisors.
“They’re going to sit down with each person that they’re working with and instead of just saying ‘Okay, here’s your next appointment. We’ll see you there.’ They’re going to say, ‘Your next appointment is in two weeks, let’s get you a ride scheduled so we’ll see you there,’” Appalachian Transportation Institute Director of Marketing Tricia Ball said.
The rides will not be limited to treatment or recovery services. It will include transportation to legal appointments, education programs, and job opportunities.
The ultimate goal is to help these people return to the workforce and contribute to the ARC’s mission of economic development.
The infrastructure of the program is still being developed, but it will involve mobility advisors coordinating with community volunteer driver programs, public transportation, and the ride-share company Lyft, depending on where the person is located.
Most of the ARC’s grant will be used to subsidize rides, according to Ball.
Another major component of the program is collecting data and documenting both the successes and challenges.
The ARC is interested in gathering this data in hopes that it could help develop more programs across Appalachia.
“We want to see what works,” Thomas said. “What subject set of individuals seem to be the ones to benefit most from this type of service? What aspects of the service maybe don’t turn out to be productive? We need to know both of these things.”
Thomas said Huntington is an appropriate location to experiment with this innovative program, given the proactive approach the city has taken.
Huntington had some of the nation’s highest rates of fatal drug overdoses during the height of the opioid crisis, drawing national attention in 2016 when it responded to 26 overdoses in just four hours.
The city since then has implemented a number of evidence-based strategies that seem to have found early success. Fatal overdose numbers dropped from 174 to 64 over the course of one year, according to city data.
“Often times people will come into Huntington ... and will try to say that we are in the community that is the epicenter of the epidemic, or the epicenter of the problem,” Mayor Steve Williams said. “We like to say that we’re the epicenter of the solution, a ‘City of Solutions.’”
The pilot program is scheduled to begin sometime later this year and last 12 months.