Buffalo MATTERS, a University at Buffalo-developed opioid treatment program, is set to expand across New York State. The program has been credited with helping reduce opioid overdose deaths in Erie County by 40 percent over the past two years.
Dr. Joshua Lynch founded Buffalo MATTERS in 2015. The program uses an electronic referral system accessible via iPads to quickly connect emergency room patients to opioid use disorder treatment directly from their ER beds.
“Imagine that you’re in opiate withdrawal,” Dr. Lynch said, speaking at the University at Buffalo’s Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences Wednesday.
“If you’re not really sure what that means, it’s essentially the worst flu-like illness you could possible imagine. So picture yourself going to the hospital, to the emergency department, getting a list of phone numbers only to get home and realize some don’t work, and getting some medications that may or may not help you feel better.”
Dr. Lynch said he and other emergency medical professionals knew they could do better, which led to the creation of Buffalo MATTERS.
“What we’re doing in Buffalo MATTERS is we are acknowledging that this is a disease like many others,” said Dr. Nancy Nielsen, senior associate dean for health policy at the Jacobs School. “You wouldn’t treat patients with other kinds of diseases by basically saying, ‘Here, you just had terrible chest pain, here’s a list of clinics. Call them and see if you can get an appointment in three weeks.”
Instead, Buffalo MATTERS has expanded rapid access to medication like buprenorphine, which can help stop cravings and block withdrawal symptoms for people who are dependent on opioids, according to the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH). The program also helps patients schedule their first appointment for long-term treatment at a clinic of their choosing within 24-48 hours of their emergency room visit.
About 150 patients have been referred from local emergency departments through Buffalo MATTERS, which received funding from the John R. Oishei Foundation in 2017 and the Blue Fund of BlueCross BlueShield of Western New York in 2018.
Tom, 32, said he tried unsuccessfully several times to overcome his opioid addiction before starting treatment through Buffalo MATTERS about a year and a half ago.
“It was very bad circumstances when I met Dr. Lynch. I got a prescription to suboxone [which contains buprenorphine],” Tom said, and “went home with an option, and it helped—instead of going out and looking for another bad habit.”
Buffalo MATTERS currently operates in the emergency departments of 17 hospitals across Western New York. With support from NYSDOH, it will now expand to greater Albany, mid-Hudson and New York City regions over the coming year.
Dr. Nielsen, of the Jacobs School, said Buffalo MATTERS was “born out of tragedy.”
Erie County recorded 186 confirmed opioid-related deaths last year compared to 251 in 2017 and 301 in 2016—a year in which the county also experienced 10 opioid-related deaths within one 24-hour period.
“This funding from the New York State Department of Health will bring the successes that we are starting to see in Western New York to all of the regions of our state and, we hope, beyond,” Dr. Nielsen said.
Hopefully, that will mean a lot more patient success stories like Tom’s.
“The program was awesome to me. It saved my life. It got me my family back [and] saved my family’s life. I am very grateful to be here talking to y’all right now.”