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The "MOMAT" unit: Mobile methadone treatment serving Denverites with opioid use disorder

Mobile Opioid Medication Assisted Treatment makes methadone more accessible in Denver
The "MOMAT" unit: Mobile methadone treatment serving Denverites with opioid use disorder
Posted at 12:47 PM, Mar 25, 2024
and last updated 2024-03-25 14:47:31-04

DENVER — Since 1966, the Bernard F. Gipson Eastside Family Health Center has provided primary care to Coloradans. The historic health center has a new addition — and it's hard to miss.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, a large blue and orange bus is parked outside the community clinic. The mobile health center is a new initiative from Denver Health that aims to better treat patients struggling with opioid use disorder.

It's called the MOMAT unit, which stands for Mobile Opioid Medication Assisted Treatment.

“Methadone is an opioid. It's a long-acting opioid, meaning that a person only needs to take it one time a day, and they can feel good for 24 hours," Dr. Jarratt Pytell, who is an addiction medicine and primary care doctor at the clinic, explained. “There's often an overlap for many people with opioid use disorder, that chronic pain is a contributor. An opioid use disorder can make pain worse, pain can make an opioid use disorder worse. And fortunately, we have really highly effective medications like methadone that is great for pain and also great for opioid use disorder.”

Jessica Pitzer is a patient who benefits from the MOMAT unit since she lives with chronic pain. Pitzer was born with glaucoma and is blind. She was prescribed opioids other than methadone in the past.

“Some of them [opioids] worked, but they don't want to prescribe some of those things long-term, because it's not safe," Pitzer said. “I have a lot of pain issues, and we had been trying to find something that would work well."

Pitzer said Dr. Pytell suggested methadone as a way to treat her pain.

Pitzer's daily doses of methadone have changed her life.

“I'm more awake. I'm able to be more active. I'm able to work more... it's been a lot for me. It's been nice," Pitzer said with a smile.

Dr. Pytell explained the MOMAT unit is an extension of Denver Health's primary location for methadone treatment on the main campus. The mobile unit will serve both the Eastside Clinic and the Sam Sandos Westside Family Health Center.

It's a huge change for patients who use the Eastside Health Center, since it expands the accessibility of methadone treatment.

“Methadone for opioid use disorder is highly regulated and only available in clinic's opioid treatment programs," Dr. Pytell said. “I can prescribe methadone for pain. And they [patients] can get it at the pharmacy, but methadone for opioid use disorders, that's a whole other regulatory framework. If I wanted to treat them with methadone, a patient with opioid use disorder with methadone, I was not able to do it, even though I'm a board certified specialist. Federal regulations would not allow it.”

Now, patients who seek methadone treatment for opioid use disorder can receive their dosage at the MOMAT unit right outside the front doors of the Eastside Clinic.

Dr. Pytell said methadone helps individuals through withdrawals from other opiates, while curbing cravings.

“It's a really innovative approach to integrating addiction treatment into the context of primary care," Dr. Pytell said.

Maggie Bieweg is an addiction counselor on the MOMAT unit. She said it is the first mobile methadone treatment in Colorado.

"It helps to get rid of those barriers that traditionally come up and can kind of deter people from starting treatment," Bieweg said. “It allows individuals to not have to go through the withdrawal from opioids, which can be really intense, uncomfortable. And so it just provides that medication and a different way to manage addiction.”

Biewig said they chose the Eastside Clinic and the Sam Sandos Westside Family Health Center for the MOMAT unit to set up shop were based on data that showed where the majority of patients, who sought care at Denver Health's main campus, were from.

MOMAT is parked at the Eastside Family Health Center on Tuesdays and Thursdays, from 8 a.m. to 1:15 p.m.

The unit is funded through a grant.

If you or someone you know is struggling, there are resources to help. You can call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) confidentially, for free, at any time day or night. The number is 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Mobile methadone treatment serving Denverites with opioid use disorder