A Ride to Recovery: Wheels of Hope brings options to residents of the Merrimack Valley

“Wheels of Hope has been successful because of the commitment and effort of all those involved…[W]e see the impact of this month to month as rides continue to increase across the [Merrimack] Valley.” – Cindy Lopez, Program Manager for the MA Helpline & Wheels of Hope

Every September, folks in the substance use space observe National Recovery Month, culminating in Recovery Day on September 30th. During this annual event, the recovery community honors those in recovery, promotes and supports new evidence-based treatment and recovery practices, and acknowledges the dedication of service providers and community members across the nation who make recovery in all its forms possible. Every year, our Helplines and other substance use-focused projects aim to elevate Recovery Month through communication activities and participation in local recovery events.

This particular Recovery Month marked an incredible achievement for one of our substance use-related pilot projects. The MA Helpline’s Wheels of Hope project provided it’s 600th ride since its launch in January 2020. This monumental feat was documented in a press release issued the Merrimack Valley Project, one of this project’s partner organizations (which was picked up by local news outlet WHAV).

In this blog post, we spotlight the Wheels of Hope project as a part of a new series of deep dives into some of our most innovative projects.

What is Wheels of Hope? Wheels of Hope provides free transportation to substance use treatment and recovery centers in the 23 towns and cities that comprise the Merrimack Valley in Massachusetts. This partnership among HRiA, the Merrimack Valley Project, and Lucos Transportation addresses a critical transportation gap for the Valley’s most vulnerable citizens, specifically those struggling with substance use disorder whose chief barrier to treatment is an inability to travel to the needed treatment facility.

How did it start? Wheels of Hope was launched as six-month pilot service in 2020 as a collaboration between Merrimack Valley Project, Lucos Transportation, and HRiA through funding provided by a $150K state senate budget amendment championed by State Senators DiZoglio and Kennedy. In this pilot phase (January-June 2020), Wheels of Hope provided 113 rides. After a period of downtime, Wheels of Hope was relaunched in January 2021 through another state senate budget amendment, supplemented by federal grant funding. In just 15 months, Wheels of Hope provided over 600 rides to nearly 300 individuals.

Wheels of Hope was originally based on a program in Connecticut called SATEP (Substance Abuse Treatment Enhancement Program). At its peak, SATEP provided 5 rides a day at an annual cost of $500,000. Currently, Wheels of Hope is averaging 4 rides a day at roughly half that price.

Outcomes. Lowell and Lawrence, both in Wheels of Hope’s service area, have seen an overall decline in overdose deaths in the past 12 months. We believe this is in part attributed to Wheels of Hope reducing barriers to accessing treatment for Opioid Use Disorder (OUD). Helping people stay alive to live healthier lives is our intention, and it can even help lessen the significant impact the opioid epidemic has on the Massachusetts economy. Earlier this year, the CDC estimated that OUD and overdose cost the state $5,381 per capita. The goals of Wheels of Hope are not economic in nature, but we aim to steward funds responsibly to lessen the harm the opioid crisis has in our communities.

For more information on Wheels of Hope or the Massachusetts Substance Use Helpline, visit helplinema.org.