NYS Medication-Assisted Community Summit

VIP BuildingOn March 8, 2016, a call went out from NYS OASAS in collaboration with MARS NY to gather the medication-assisted community (MAC) to organize and fight for change to end the stigma against methadone medication.  The meeting included a large group of supporters, administrators, counseling staff, and peers from across the state all united in the effort to remove the stigma associated with methadone. OTP Clinical Supervisor, Nicholas Jefferson, and OTP Clinical Counselor, Nadine Brown, attended this first session to heed the call for change and contribute information and ideas on how to organize the medication-assisted community to advocate for themselves.  The specific message at this first meeting was “Methadone, Methadone, Methadone!”- Charlene Payne.  The purpose of this message is to begin to take away the stigma of methadone as a “dirty word” often whispered and/or disguised.  Before we can move forward as a community advocating for change, we must first become accustomed to saying “methadone” aloud.

This meeting was a success!  Statistical information given at this meeting indicated there are 35,000 New Yorkers participating in methadone and buprenorphine treatment.  These are people needed to organize and fight for change.  Notices went out indicating the date of the next MAC summit on April 7, 2016.  Postings were hung throughout VIP Community Services and flyers were given directly to OTP consumers.  Flyers were also left in the waiting rooms of the OTP clinic and 822 Outpatient Treatment program.  MARS staff persons worked directly with consumers to prepare them for this date by informing them of the summit and the importance of their presence to advocate for their needs.  Seven MARS participants organized their community of peers to travel to and from the NYC OASAS office as a unit.  Ms. Makala Messinger, Social Media Coordinator, Curtis Rhodes, Integration Peer Navigator, Joe Allen, OTP Clinical Counselor, and Nadine Brown, OTP Clinical Counselor car pooled to the OASAS office to support this all important cause.

On April 7, 2015, the second MAC Summit introduced the message: Enough is enough!  This message is about organizing the medication-assisted community to raise their voices around the prejudice surrounding methadone treatment.  Agenda items included the state of the methadone community with Belinda Greenfield, Bureau Director, Adult Treatment Services Authority.  Ms. Melissa Trent of the Legal Action Center (LAC) discussed advocacy to change current discriminatory policies within criminal justice agencies forbidding people under their supervision from using medications such as methadone, buprenorphine, or naltrexone to treat opioid addiction.  Information regarding 42 CFR Part 2 Privacy Regulations was given to encourage members to voice their concern regarding electronic access to consumer information.  Ms. Jocelyn Woods of NAMA Recovery provided a brief in-service on the science of addiction.  Ms. Charlene Payne of MARS NY began organizing committees to advocate for change.  Consumers and staff worked together to form committees based on the needs of the medication-assisted community.  Ideas to organize the fight for change include the following committees:

  • Advocacy training
  • Outreach education
  • Legal Advocacy
  • Drug Court Advocacy
  • Recovery Month
  • Writers
  • Social Media campaign
  • Recruiters

VIP MARS participants proposed offering social events such as barbecues, a fish fry, picnics, and social gatherings to raise awareness within the community about the MAC Summit recruiting peers to fight for change.

VIP, Van, Building, Arthur Ave, VIP Community ServicesThe significance and success of this particular meeting was in empowering MARS participants to organize and work toward change.  The idea of the MAC Summit was first introduced to MARS participants about a month ago.  It began by informing them of the first summit meeting attended inviting them to participate in the next forum.  Participants were informed clinical and administrative staff would be in attendance in support of the fight for change; however, the purpose of this summit is to give them a voice in the fight for change.  The importance of their participation is to have a forum to inform the community of the benefits of methadone medication in order to breakdown barriers and stigmas around methadone.  We discussed concerns and expectations of the outcome of these meetings.  Members were informed this is the second of several monthly meetings in preparation of advocacy efforts to end stigma around medication treatment.  We discussed anxieties around going to OASAS and working with clinical and administrative staff from several programs throughout the state.  Peers were encouraged to observe surroundings and confidently speak up about their concerns according to their comfort level in the meeting.  We discussed travel and carfare.  MARS members understood they would be responsible for carfare and traveling to and from the meeting.  Members set aside funds to travel and organized a time and place to meet to travel together.  Members arrived to the summit on time.  We sat together in unity and were introduced to organizers of the MAC Summit.  Members listened intently to the information provided commenting and asking appropriate questions.  When divided into smaller committee groups, MARS members worked together to identify needs in the medication-assisted community based on information at this meeting and the group’s individual needs.  Members decided to work toward recruiting peers to engage the larger community in this fight for change.  MARS members indicated a need to reach the larger community of 35,000 New Yorkers prescribed methadone medication to have stronger representation when advocating to end stigma in the community.  Members expressed confidence in their decision and work efforts as a team.  Members conveyed this message to MAC Summit participants indicating a feeling of purposefulness among the medication-assisted community.  At the close of the meeting, peers mingled with summit participants appropriately and gathered together to return to the Bronx.  Members expressed a sense of confidence and accomplishment.  The next day, this information was back to peers at VIP Community Services reporting on the need for participation and change.  Members indicated they were pleased with their fellowship, camaraderie, and the work they accomplished as a group.  Members expressed an interest in returning for monthly summit meetings.

This was an amazing experience.  It was exciting to participate in community organizing, especially for a cause so near and dear to the population we work with daily.  The entire process was not only empowering for peers, but also for VIP personnel.  It gave new meaning to the work we are doing as a community. Having worked together over time in preparation for change, we found it empowering to have an additional platform to advocate for change in collaboration with the larger medication-assisted community.  The opportunity to organize as a group of peers and staff to meet at OASAS to advocate for the needs of the medication-assisted community increases our motivation and resolve.  There were no chiefs leading this small army, only a united effort among a team of people with one common goal: Change!  This is the work we set out to do on a daily basis.  We are excited to be part of this team and look forward to increasing in size by recruiting the many members of the medication-assisted community to fight to end the stigma around methadone through advocacy and education.

The next MAC Summit on May 19, 2016 will be held via the MARS Rec Room social networking page and phone conference. This forum will be used to discuss new ideas and accomplishments within the smaller committees around organizing change.  We will reconvene at the NYC OASAS office June 16, 2016 bringing together all of the ideas and newer recruits to build a strong network in this commitment to change.  The goal of the MAC Summit is to meet on a monthly basis to organize and prepare the medication-assisted community to fight to end stigma against medication-assisted treatment.

Nadine Brown


Cinical Counselor

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