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Bridge Clinics to offer direct connection to medication-assisted treatment for opioid users

Sophia Schmidt
Delaware Public Media

This month, Delawareans with opioid use disorders can begin medication-assisted treatment directly through the state’s Bridge Clinics.

The clinics – which operate in every county – opened in 2019 as resource centers for residents with substance use disorders. Patients can walk in without an appointment and receive a substance use disorder and mental health screenings, speak with a doctor or learn how to administer the overdose reversal drug naloxone.

But until now, if a patient wanted to begin medication-assisted treatment - the use of medication to soften the effects of withdrawal, which can range from painful to fatal – they needed to ask clinic staff for a referral to an outside treatment provider, which could mean waiting several days for intake. Delaware Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Director Joanna Champney says that delay can be a barrier to patients seeking help.

“We don’t want to have to refer people out – we want them immediately starting on the medication," she said. "We know that attrition is a major risk, and so instead of a warm hand-off, we are immediately inducting patients onto that life-saving medication.”

The Bridge Clinics will provide buprenorphine, a mild opioid commonly used to treat withdrawal symptoms.

Delaware has also seen a more than 50% increase in the number of treatment providers qualified to treat patients with buprenorphine, which Champney lauded as a step towards reducing access to treatment, particularly in rural areas. The Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health is also preparing to launch an overdose hotspot response program to conduct outreach to those who survive overdoses.

Paul Kiefer comes to Delaware from Seattle, where he covered policing, prisons and public safety for the local news site PubliCola.