Panel at Narcotics Anonymous convention focuses on building community relationships

Groton — The Rev. Ed Cornell, pastor at the First Church of Christ in Saybrook, said during a panel Saturday at a Narcotics Anonymous convention that the organization provides a safe place where people can just be and build relationships with one another.

About 1,500 people attended the 33rd annual Connecticut Regional Convention of Narcotics Anonymous at the Mystic Marriott Hotel & Spa. The convention, which started Friday and runs through Sunday, held its first workshop focused on the topic of public relations for the organization — both in the state and internationally.

Narcotics Anonymous has 70,065 weekly meetings in 144 countries and provides "recovery from the effects of addiction" through a 12-step program, including regular attendance at group meetings, according to a news release.

A panel of community representatives — comprising Cornell, Melissa Simone, a licensed clinical social worker, and Andrew Marocchini, the owner of BailCo Bail Bonds and the president of the Bail Association of Connecticut — spoke about how to make Narcotics Anonymous a better known resource to people seeking recovery and how to further the organization's community outreach and build relationships with the public.

Speaking on the topic of misperceptions about the organization he's encountered over the past 30 years, Cornell said it's about educating people about what the organization does. It's "always about teaching people that what we're about when we host the meeting is hosting a safe place so people can stay alive," he said.

He said that a friend of his who is a funeral director said almost 30 percent of the people he's burying are young men due to opioids, and the most important thing is to keep people alive and substance-free. 

Cornell, who has helped meeting groups start in three places, also spoke about the importance of breaking down barriers, including by offering more Narcotics Anonymous meetings in communities and having tables during events at churches or synagogues, for example, to provide information about Narcotics Anonymous and reach out to community members.

"I think we need to be willing to challenge barriers wherever we see them," he said.

Simone, who has experience working with people struggling from addiction, spoke about the impact she has seen Narcotics Anonymous have on people's lives.

"I feel very honored to be here today because I've seen firsthand how NA saves people's lives, because the medical model of treatment is just not enough, I think," she said.

Simone said she personally has seen how the 12-step program helps people, after they get their medical model treatment, "maintain the long-term, life-changing recovery."

Marocchini said his company's staff now carries around Narcotics Anonymous pamphlets and some staff members are going to be licensed as certified recovery specialists.

He spoke about developing relationships between Narcotics Anonymous and his industry, as well as other professions that have direct contact with individuals who may be seeking treatment. He said resources like Narcotics Anonymous are sometimes overlooked simply due to a lack of awareness.

Panelists also said the general public would benefit from people who have found success through the program and are willing to share their story, speaking at more public events and forums.

The Connecticut Regional Public Relations Subcommittee of Narcotics Anonymous hosted the workshop. Members of the Public Relations Committee of the United Shoreline Area of Narcotics Anonymous were among the speakers who discussed initiatives to spread the word about the organization. A presentation was shown that featured photos of Narcotics Anonymous outreach efforts across the state, including billboards, tables at community events, pamphlets and posters and signs.  

The outreach efforts are international. Narcotics Anonymous representatives from Brazil, Finland and Iran spoke during a video conference to share their public relations efforts with people at the Mystic convention. Their efforts included working with community partners and the media, posting information online and on social media, and using technology to better reach people.

State Commissioner of Mental Health and Addiction Services Miriam Delphin-Rittmon; Groton Town Police Chief Louis J. Fusaro; New London Mayor Michael Passero; state Rep. Joe de la Cruz, D-Groton, and Tammy de la Cruz, who helped found Community Speaks Out; Ana Gopoian, founder and executive director of Tri-Circle Inc.; Jennifer Chadukiewicz, recovery coach manager at Connecticut Community for Addiction Recovery and Ceci Iliff of Charity Challenge were among the community leaders that attended the public relations workshop.

k.drelich@theday.com

More info

For more information on Connecticut Region of Narcotics Anonymous, visit its website: www.ctna.org, or call its statewide phone line: 1 (800) 627-3543.

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