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Help For Addicts Goes Mobile In Atlantic City


By Lynda Cohen

November 4, 2008 Atlantic City, New Jersey- Gina didn’t expect to be at this place Monday. The heroin addict made a trip to the city’s Oasis Drop-In Center, where clean needles are available. But she didn’t want to shoot up, she wanted treatment.

Gina, who did not want to give her last name, has been trying to get help since September, after finding out she was pregnant. The problem is, recovery usually requires insurance or lost of money. She has neither.

There is a new program starting in the city, they told her at Oasis.

The John Brooks Recovery Center’s mobile unit offers treatment to those who are indigent. Their main focus: pregnant women.

“This is your day,” case manager Gene Kelly told Gina as they sat at a long table set up outside the bus-turned-clinic. “Praise, G*d, he sent you here.”

The young blonde put her face in her hands and sobbed. The John Brooks center opened its mobile unit – Recovery on Wheels, or ROW – Monday. In the morning, it was at the Atlantic City Rescue Mission. At 12:30 p.m., the bus was parked at Brown’s Park. That’s where Gina came aboard.

“You have the power to choose not to use today,” Kelly said. “Hellos, somebody, you did it. You chose life.” “That drug dealer, he’s chosen death for you,” he continued. “He will give you destruction a bag at a time.”

Gina sad she has been using heroin on and off for four years. At one point, she was a year clean. Heroin has always been her drug, the 23-year-old said. She smoked pot when she was younger, but heroin has been Gina’s problem. She dosen’t even drink alcohol.

“I used last night,” she told Kelly.

“Don’t worry about last week,” Kelly replied. “We give you three days. Next week, we’ll test you.”

That’s when she’s expected to be clean.

“We’re going to be successful with or without you,” Kelly told her. “You’re going to get better or you’re going to shoot dope and die. “I’m not mad at you,” he added. “That’s just a fact. We love you unconditionally.”

Gina began sobbing again. Kelley reached out and hugged her.

When he asked her who got her into drugs, the answer did not surprise him.

“My boyfriend,” she said.

“Notice, a friend,” kelley said. “Not an enemy.”

He knows. It was a friend that introduced him to cocaine about 26 years ago.

“I went to a party and saw everybody doing this thing on a plate,” Kelley recalled. “I used to think that I would try anything once, until I met this monster and I tried it. I was hooked immediately.”

Heroin came next. It took him 20 years – using off and on – to get clean. Now, with six drug-free years, he’s helping others.

After filling out forms and talking with the case manager, Gina’s next stop was with Dr. Rodney Brunson. He’s the final decision on all patients.

But at first, as she ate a tuna sub the clinic provided, Gina began to shiver. It was the start of withdrawal.

“We have to get her medicated,” said Joe Marino, the ROW project supervisor.

The program is especially careful with pregnant women, making sure they are kept comfortable physically as they fight their addiction and try to keep their unborn baby healthy.

The clinic not only provides methadone, but suboxone, which comes in pill form. Brunson believes that will be the more successful option in the future. Rather than come daily, as with methadone, those in recovery can get a one-month prescription. The drug doesn’t give them a high either.

But pregnant women cannot use it.

Gina got medicated, then will be monitored each day to regulate her dosage.

“We’ll put someone on methadone just so they won’t go out an use heroin today,” Marino said. “We don’t want to lose them, because they might not come back.”

The clinic will be at the Rescue Mission from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. on Monday through Saturday. Then at Brown’s Park from 12:30 to 3:30 p.m. those same days. It is federally funded through the HIV Initiative.

For now, Gina’s story loos promising.

“She has a lot of hope, you know, that she can find an answer to the equation,” Kelley said. “There aren’t a lot of services out there. That’s why the state put this one on the road. I’m just so blessed that they did it.”

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