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Paterson, N.J. uses $1 million grant to establish "Real Fix" hotline to help fight opioid addiction

Paterson puts $1 million grant toward quick-response program for opioid addiction 02:28

PATERSON, N.J. -- The city of Paterson won $1 million to fight opioid addition from a global mayors challenge. CBS2's Natalie Duddridge spoke with drug users testing a new hotline that promises treatment in 90 minutes.

Pamela Bush signed up for a new medically assisted drug treatment plan. She's trying to overcome her lifelong battle with drugs that started in her home.

"It's hard to stay away from your mom, like when she first started smoking the crack cocaine ... instead of trying to fight against it, I joined it," Bush said. "I got high with my mom and I'm not proud to say that. It's something I wish I had not ever did."

Bush said every time she tried to get clean, the heroin withdrawals were too overpowering.

"You can't do anything. You have the cold sweat, the chemical come out of your body so you have that smell, you have to constantly get up. I actually have to crawl sometimes to get in the shower," Bush said.

During the pandemic, authorities said overdoses in Paterson surged by 30 percent, with more than 1,700 in 2021.

The city launched an outreach team that visits the most impacted neighborhoods and helps users get access to medication, food and clothing.

The program is being expanded thanks to a $1 million grant Paterson received after winning a global mayors challenge. Out of 631 worldwide cities that applied, 15 won, including three in the U.S. Paterson won for its proposal called "Real Fix."

"How Real Fix works, we establish a hotline, 833-REALFIX," Mayor Andre Sayegh said, "You're connected to a tele doc. That doctor will prescribed medication."

All users have to do is call.

"We have a delivery person deliver it to your door. All of that happens within 90 minutes. So now for the first time ever it's actually easier to get Suboxone than it is to get the heroin," said Edward Boze, Paterson's chief innovation officer.

Boze said it can be delivered to a street corner, too.

Studies show Suboxone, a treatment which lessens withdrawals and cravings, is the most effective solution, according to Boze. It's similar to methadone, but that requires a daily visit to a clinic. Suboxone can be taken at home.

"The most successful treatment is actually the cheapest, which might be a disincentive for doctors to go into it because a doctor is getting paid $178 a month to keep somebody on Suboxone," Boze said. "If you're going into a methadone clinic, you're probably getting paid somewhere in the area of $1,200-$1,300 a month."

Boze said whatever the treatment plan, access is the biggest obstacle for drug users.

"Overdoses spike between 4 p.m. and 11 p.m. Treatment centers close at 3 p.m. So, even if the peak period of the day, when you're willing to try something else, you're approaching withdrawal, you're willing to try something else because you don't even have the $10 for heroine," Boze said.

The goal of outreach teams is to make treatment more accessible than drugs.

"I came here to get help because there are good people who donate stuff to us," Thomas Figueroa said.

"This program is a game changer," said John Rehean, director of EVA Recovery Center.

"They cry, sometimes because they're just so grateful that the service is out there," said Rachel Dean, assistant director.

Rehean and Dean run the outreach program. They've written more than 500 treatment referrals in the last six months.

"I can give you personal experience that it does work," Dean said.

Dean beat her addiction. Now her life's work is helping others like Bush do the same.

"I'm glad that I got the chance to do, a second chance to get myself together," Bush said.

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