WOONSOCKET, R.I. (WPRI) — Since the summer, a mobile medical unit has been helping people struggling with substance use disorder in Rhode Island.

CODAC Behavioral Healthcare’s mobile unit is a 27-foot RV that sets up shop in Woonsocket three and a half hours a day, six days a week, providing suboxone and methadone to people who need it.

The need is evident.

According to the R.I. Department of Health data, 435 people died of an overdose in 2021. Of those, 65% involved illicit drugs.

CODAC got approval from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to dispense the medication at mobile treatment sites. President and CEO Linda Hurley told 12 News the mobile unit is cost-effective, saying it was a little more than $300,000 to get up and running.

“If you think about the cost of building a building or the cost of buildout in an existing building is how much more? I mean, it’s just there’s a huge, literally bang for the buck with these units,” Hurley explained.

More importantly, Hurley said the mobile unit is a convenient alternative for people who can’t get to a brick-and-mortar medical building, either due to the cost of transportation or feeling uncomfortable visiting that kind of facility.

“The access issues are so important right now,” she added. “Individuals need to have treatment when they need it, because if they don’t get it, now they could just die.”

John Hayes drives the RV into the Community Care Alliance’s parking lot in Woonsocket, parks it, and pushes a button that expands the narrow space into a mobile clinic. The vehicle can be found there from around 6:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Saturday.

“I see a lot of people that are looking to help themselves … help themselves out of a problem,” Hayes said.

A patient named Jason told 12 News he’s been suffering from opioid addiction for about 15 years after being prescribed OxyContin for an injury. He said he has been utilizing the mobile unit since it first arrived in Woonsocket a few months ago, getting treatment six days a week.

“It stops the cravings for opioids,” Jason said.

Patients at the mobile unit are assigned a specific number, which tells a nurse how much methadone or suboxone they should receive. Both are legal substitutes for opioids like heroin, oxycontin, or fentanyl.

Caitlin Connor, a clinical supervisor with CODAC, explained how the medication works.

“In many of these situations, it allows people to function normally on the day-to-day, do things that everyone else does every day: go to work and not feel sick, not have cravings,” Connor said.

“It allows people to, in some situations, get their kids back, stay out of legal trouble, just be able to live a normal life,” she added.

Connor said having counselors, case managers, and medical staff in the same setting provides a different kind of experience.

“Everyone knows everyone,” she said. “They know the patients, we know everything about them, and we know everything about all the patients, which is rare in a situation like this.”

In hopes of expanding access, Hurley said CODAC recently applied for funding to obtain a second vehicle, with the goal of having at least three on the road.