42-foot bus brings on-demand drug and alcohol abuse treatment to north St. Louis

Counseling and treatment for drug and alcohol abuse is coming soon to three north St. Louis neighborhoods by way of a 42-foot bus.

Doctors, nurses and therapists on the bus, operated by the Black Alcohol/Drug Service Information Center, aim to provide immediate care to Black residents in the area. The therapy bus will make stops five times a week in the rear lots of CareSTL Health clinics in the Greater Ville, Riverview and Wells-Goodfellow neighborhoods.

People visiting the mobile treatment center can receive therapy assessments, drug and alcohol abuse counseling and medication for those who suffer from withdrawals.

Many Black people in north St. Louis cannot afford to pay for high-quality substance abuse treatment, said Oval Miller, the center’s CEO.

“We can’t just believe that just because you’re black and poor, you don’t deserve the best treatment,” Miller said.

Miller understands how exceptional drug abuse treatment can turn lives around. He came to St. Louis from Los Angeles decades ago with a heroin addiction. With the help of family, Miller enrolled in a private treatment center in the area. The treatment cost nearly $30,000. He said the type of care he received should be available for people at all socioeconomic levels, not just the wealthy.

On the bus, counselors and doctors will pre-screen individuals by looking at the frequency, intensity and history of substance abuse. They also will discuss social or mental concerns to find the best treatment options for patients.

Offering on-demand care is important because the window for treatment closes quickly for people who abuse alcohol or drugs, said Robin Smith, program director for the center. Requiring an appointment often means that patients don’t come back for treatment, he said.

“We hope to bridge that gap — that if you want treatment, you get it right now,” Smith said.

In April, the Addiction Science Team of the University of Missouri-St. Louis found that 405 Black people died of opioid-related overdoses in the area last year. During the same time frame, the number of white St. Louisans overdosing decreased.

Researchers say the disparity is due to a lack of treatment in black neighborhoods in the region facilities and a lack of resources providing medications, including Suboxone and Methadone, used to withdrawal treatment symptoms.

“I don’t believe African Americans can afford not to be sober at all times,” Miller said, “They must be sober, we’re in a constant war for our survival.”

Doctors and counselors on the bus will also teach church leaders and area counselors how to perform substance abuse interventions in their communities.

Follow Andrea on Twitter: @drebjournalist

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