Battling the Opioid Crisis to Create a Healthy Community

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City officials have stated clearly that “Philadelphia is facing the greatest health crisis in a century. Every neighborhood is being hit hard by an epidemic of opioid use and overdose.” But, you don’t have to tell that to Nilda Ruiz, CEO of Asociación Puertorriqueños en Marcha, Inc. (APM). With a Behavioral Health Center right on 5th and Allegheny, APM currently sits right in the epicenter of the opioid epidemic.

This isn’t new territory for APM. The organization has been working to address substance abuse issues in Philadelphia for nearly 50 years. In fact, APM was the first agency in Philadelphia to provide treatment for drug and alcohol rehabilitation designed specifically for the Latino population. APM’s Proyecto Nueva Vida (PNV) program provides intensive and regular outpatient services to adults. The Drug and Alcohol clinic offers family and couples therapy and can provide substance abuse treatment to individuals as young as 14 years old. APM staff is bilingual and culturally sensitive to meet the special needs of the area’s growing Latino population.

But even 50 years of experience hasn’t been enough to stem the tide of drug-related issues in the community, so recently APM called for reinforcements. Enter Dr. Hector Colon-Rivera. Dr. Colon-Rivera joined the APM team in February as the new Medical Director of the agency’s Behavioral Health Programs, with a goal of expanding the agency’s capacity to deal with the opioid crisis.

Dr. Colon-Rivera is a veteran in the battle against substance use disorder. He is the co-founder and Co-Chair of CrearConSalud Inc., a nonprofit organization with the goals of supporting and conducting non-partisan research, educational activities, and advocacy to increase public awareness of mental health and substance use disorders in Puerto Rico and the Latino/ community in the United States. He is also the coordinator of the Radio Vieques 90.1 FM Program, “Salud a Flote,” a 20 minute segment transmitted every Friday with the objective of educating communities in Puerto Rico on topics related to mental health and substance use disorders. He also serves as a clinical advisor for the Advisory on Alcohol and Other Drugs committee for the State of Pennsylvania, and he is the senior advisor for the Opioid State Targeted Response Technical Assistance for Puerto Rico.

“We are extremely proud to have someone of Dr. Colon-Rivera’s pedigree and cultural competence to serve our community, stepping up to the helm of medical director of the APM’s Behavioral Health Programs,” said Ruiz.

“The opioid crisis doesn’t only affect the individual, however,” Ruiz continued. “It affects the whole family, the whole community.” That’s why APM has re-doubled its efforts to help each family achieve their greatest potential.

Now, more than ever, APM’s programs are focused on creating a thriving, healthy community where residents are engaged and self-reliant. Whether they are helping 90% of their Pre-K students enter the school system at or above grade level in reading and math, helping families secure affordable housing, or promoting resident engagement through their Neighborhood Advisory Committee program, APM’s staff and volunteers have rolled up their sleeves and vowed to continue to fight for their community.

“We will celebrate our 50th anniversary next year,” said Ruiz. “When we first started, we were focused on helping people find safe, affordable housing. Now look at the neighborhood. Property values have gone from $55,000 to five times that.”

With this degree of success in their past, APM is poised to realize a bright future for the community they serve.

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