Borough’s first mobile drug treatment unit opens in South Bronx

The first mobile treatment unit for opioid addition is launched on Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2024 at 997 Brook Ave.
Photo Emily Swanson

The nonprofit Acacia Network, its affiliate Promesa Inc. and the State Office of Addiction Services and Supports (OASES) on Wednesday celebrated the opening of a brand-new Mobile Medication Unit (MMU) that will provide “substance use treatment on wheels.” 

The MMU is the first mobile methadone service in the Bronx aimed at finding and treating people addicted to opioids. While another MMU by Bronx-based VIP Community Services opened in November, it does not currently operate in the Bronx. 

“Mobile services are the way to go,” Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson said at Wednesday’s ribbon-cutting. “We are not a one-size-fits-all borough.” 

The chrome and white truck will be stationed primarily at 997 Brook Ave. in the Days Inn parking lot from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays.

A look inside the MMU. Photo Emily Swanson

This mobile clinic comes at a time when the overdose epidemic is at its “worst stage ever,” according to Dr. Chinazo Cunningham, the commissioner of OASES.

And in New York City, the problem is especially prominent. A September 2023 advisory by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) said that the overdose crisis was reaching “historic levels.” A New Yorker is lost to overdose once every three hours, according to Commissioner Dr. Ashwin Vasan.

DOHMH also reported that overdoses throughout the city increased by 12% from 2021 to 2022 and Bronxites — especially in the neighborhoods of Crotona, Tremont, Hunts Point, Mott Haven and Highbridge — had the highest overdose death rate in 2022.

But the good news, Cunningham said, is that “these deaths are preventable. We have effective treatment.” 

And people can help each other, as well.

According to the Department of Health, about 60% of overdose deaths occurred not in public, but in the person’s own home or someone else’s — making it all the more critical for people to know where to find resources.

The MMU, which will provide “trauma-informed, culturally competent” care, should make that easier. People can visit the MMU for treatment of drug or alcohol dependency, relapse prevention, referrals to mental health services, counseling and more. 

The unit will be staffed by a registered nurse, licensed practical nurse and nurse practitioner, as well as security and an outreach team. 

Representatives from Acacia Network emphasized the importance of different treatment options, as some struggling with addiction may be reluctant to visit a traditional clinic — and the MMU will allow them to respond nimbly to people who would not otherwise be found.

Those who visit the MMU will be greeted by a friendly, familiar presence, according to Acacia CEO Lymaris Albors, who said they will be “people who look and sound like us.”

Council Member Rafael Salamanca, Jr., who represents the South Bronx, gave remarks at Wednesday’s event in both English and Spanish. Services at the MMU are also provided in both languages. 

Salamanca said that growing up in the South Bronx, he witnessed the devastating effects of the crack epidemic — and now his young son is seeing similar effects of opioids. 

“My family knows what it is to lose someone from an opioid overdose,” he said, adding that East 149th Street and Third Avenue is “ground zero for opioid use in the Bronx, if not the entire city.” 

But by putting the MMU in one of the areas where it is most needed, “we know that this mobile unit will save lives,” said Cunningham. 

If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction to substances or gambling, you can call or text the state’s confidential HOPEline 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to receive information and support. The number is 877-8-HOPENY (877-846-7369) or text HOPENY (Short Code 467369).

This story was updated at 1:55 p.m. on Feb. 8 to clarify that the Promesa MMU is the first and only MMU stationed in the Bronx but not the first to exist in the city. 

Reach Emily Swanson at [email protected] or (646) 717-0015. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes