Norwich, New London get new grants to address addiction

Norwich, New London and six other municipalities recently received grants from the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services to combat the opioid crisis.

Made possible by federal State Opioid Response money, the “How Can We Help” grants were for community groups that pledged to meet in person with overdose survivors and those struggling with opioid misuse.

Norwich Human Services Director Lee-Ann Gomes said the city's two-year, $75,000 grant will help grow Reliance Health Inc.’s recovery coach program.

Reliance Health, a Norwich-based mental health center, currently employs one recovery coach, who connects residents with treatment, housing and other basic needs while offering advice and friendship.

Deanna Delaney, in recovery herself, said she was working with about 60 residents last month.

Gomes said her agency chose to partner with Reliance Health because its program is established and “working well for our community.”

Gomes said the money also will go toward advertising, marketing, training and helping clients navigate insurance coverage and other potential barriers to treatment.

Thirty-two people died by overdose in Norwich in 2017, while eight more fatally overdosed in the first half of 2018. More recent numbers were not immediately available.

“The Norwich community is hit particularly hard by this epidemic, although we are working hard to turn the corner,” Gomes said. “The recovery coach program is making great strides toward this end.”

New London, meanwhile, plans to launch a program that allows firefighters to follow up with people who overdose in the city.

Jennifer Muggeo, supervisor of administration, finance and special projects for Ledge Light Health District, said the program still is taking shape. In short, it would pair some firefighters with recovery navigators, who are like recovery coaches but, rather than being stationed in a health facility, meet with people in their homes or on the streets.

Thanks to grants from the University of Baltimore, New London has had two part-time navigators since April and will be adding more this winter.

While the navigators encourage people to consider medication-assisted treatment — or the practice of combining therapy with medications that reduce the symptoms of withdrawal — they also discuss safer ways to use, such as visiting Alliance for Living’s syringe exchange program or keeping the overdose-reversal drug naloxone on hand.

Muggeo is meeting with the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services later this month to finalize the firefighter program.

She said she wants to know what DMHAS wants in terms of data collection and whether similar programs exist elsewhere in Connecticut.

“Now that they have reviewed the proposals and have selected communities, we’re wondering if they have any plan for coordination between the communities, or a consistent strategy they’re hoping everybody will implement that may take the place of something we were creating on our own,” Muggeo said.

Fire officials, meanwhile, are identifying the employees who will participate in the specialized overdose follow-up shifts, Muggeo said.

If you live in New London County and wish to speak to a recovery navigator, call or text (860) 333-3494.

l.boyle@theday.com

Additional grantees

Additional grantees include:

- Wheeler Clinic and the city of Bristol
- Coram Deo in New Britain
- Cross Street Training and Academic Center in Middletown
- Columbus House in Middletown
- Center for Human Development in Torrington
- Central CT Health District in Wethersfield and Newington

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