About Our Cover: Joshua J. Lynch, DO

By Annette Pinder

Joshua J. Lynch was determined to become a doctor for as long as he can remember. In fact, his Williamsville North High School yearbook includes his picture at age 4 with his Fisher Price doctor kit. After receiving a BS in Psychology from University at Buffalo, he became a member of Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine’s inaugural class in Florida, helping to establish a brand-new medical school. He completed his emergency medicine residency at UB, and was chief resident in his final year.

An expert in emergency medicine and treating opioid use disorder, Dr. Lynch recalls how working as an EMT for Rural Metro during college introduced him to emergency medicine. “I also became interested in learning about psychiatric medications for mental health disorders while studying psychology.” As Medical Director of DeGraff Medical Park’s Emergency Department, Dr. Lynch discusses the challenges associated with individuals with mental health disorders. “Whereas someone with a physical condition can be referred to a specialist, it takes more effort to help someone struggling with addiction. You can’t just hand them a list of providers to choose from and send them on their way.”

Knowing the significant challenges faced by individuals suffering from addition, Dr. Lynch founded MATTERS, which stands for Medication for Addiction Treatment & Electronic Referrals. MATTERS facilitates rapid referrals for individuals with substance use disorder by quickly connecting them with over 250 treatment sites. Those who require immediate help are referred to a site where they can receive free medication, transportation vouchers, and a peer referral for assistance in obtaining their first clinic appointment at the outpatient treatment center of their choice. All of this occurs in as little as 24 hours through a simple 5-minute electronic referral process without the need for phone calls. Being able to connect to care virtually through telemedicine is also an important component of the program.

MATTERS, which is now available throughout all of New York State, will soon expand to New Jersey and Pennsylvania. “The goal is to have MATTERS become a national prototype for addiction treatment following an evidence-based harm-reduction model that has proven far more successful than abstinence,” says Dr. Lynch. MATTERS also provides free access to naloxone (Narcan) through vending machines placed in public locations that are easily accessible 24/7, 365 days a year. The vending machines also offer free fentanyl and xylazine test strips. Test strips are packaged into bundles of 10 and each naloxone box contains two doses of the life-saving medication. Just last month, three lives were saved as a result of the vending machine supplies.

“Test strips are important because fentanyl and xylazine are contaminating other drugs,” explains Dr. Lynch. While both of these drugs are FDA approved, fentanyl is 100 times more potent than morphine, and can be deadly in small doses. Xylazine, an FDA-approved veterinary sedative, is extremely dangerous. Both drugs are readily available and added to other drugs to reduce cost and strengthen their effects.

Meanwhile, the opioid epidemic rages on, as Erie County saw 435 people die due to opioid overdose in 2023, which represents more than 1 person per day. The Opiate Task Force reports that more than half of those people were ages 50 or older. It is also important to know that 75% of all cocaine is laced with fentanyl, and that people affected represent every demographic. Still, he is encouraged to be working with about 100 hospitals across New York state and is grateful to the partner referral sites who all chip in to accept about 2,300 appointments each week.

In the midst of it all, Dr. Lynch manages to balance his busy professional life with spending time with his wife and children, but says it isn’t easy. He is passionate about health and fitness, enjoys competing in triathlons and endurance races, and in 2019 completed a 70.3-mile Ironman triathlon. His wife is a realtor, their children love spending time outdoors with their chickens, pony, and four dogs, and one of his children hopes to follow in his footsteps by becoming a doctor. The family also enjoys camping as a way to disconnect.

For those with friends or loved ones struggling with addiction, Dr. Lynch says, “Don’t give up on them. Recovery comes with ups and downs, and your support is important.”

Visit www.youtube.com/watch?v=KLc0JT2hoR8 for the MATTERS referral process. For free supplies, assisting in an emergency, and more, visit https://mattersnetwork.org/supplies. See vending machine locations at https://mattersnetwork.org/supplies/#vendingmachines. Need help? Call 765-MATTERS (765-628-8377) or email info@mattersnetwork.org, and reach the 24-hour addiction hotline at 1-800-622-4357.