Mother and daughter cope with grief by raising awareness, connecting addicts to services
Matthew Barrett died in November 2015 at the age of 32 because he was too ashamed to seek help, his mother, Kathleen Dufficy, said.
“Because of the stigma involved, Matthew did not seek treatment. He was judged. There was a lot of blame,” said Dufficy, a retired court clerk, who founded Matt’s Mission, a nonprofit organization in Jewett City, which provides education and awareness about drug abuse, connects individuals battling substance-use disorders to treatment and services, and supports them on their path to recovery.
She said Matthew was addicted to heroin and benzodiazepine. Even though he didn’t want anyone to know he had a problem, she said everyone knew.
“Part of Matt’s Mission is to decriminalize addiction and put it in the healthcare system. I think it takes compassion and empathy to open up the doors to successful treatment and break that stigma,” Dufficy said, adding that it costs more to incarcerate people with addiction than it does to treat them.
She said it’s “really important to treat people as human beings. We can’t keep nonviolent drug offenders in our prison systems. It hasn’t worked and it will never work. We have to connect them to services and treatment and treat it (drug addiction) like any other disease. It’s not a criminal offense.”
Unfortunately, she said, with the way we think about illegal drug use, it’s just a quick pipeline to prison. There’s no treatment, healthcare or psychological assessment despite substance abuse prevention requiring a multifaceted approach.
“It can’t be just done by one angle,” she said. “There’s so much that needs to be done, and the prison system does none of those things.”
When addicts go to jail, “a lot of times they go through withdrawal,” Kelly Barrett, Matt’s sister, said.
And not all prisons have medication assistance to help them through the process.
“And then they come out and if they use, because they don’t have the tools to survive, a lot of people overdose and die, because their resistance isn’t there,” Kelly Barrett added.
“We also need to create a society that will let these people back in, give them a second chance. It’s so difficult for offenders to find jobs. So we need to be accepting and help them get back into society and help them succeed.”
Matt’s mother and sister spoke during the annual Drug Enforcement Administration’s Drug Take Back Day on April 24, which they organized with Griswold PRIDE (Partnership to Reduce the Influence of Drugs for Everyone), a coalition of 12 community sectors working together to prevent youth substance abuse.
This event involves collecting drugs from home medicine cabinets for safe disposal, so it doesn’t get into the wrong hands.
“Two out of three youths who abuse prescription medications get it from a home medicine cabinet,” Griswold PRIDE Project Coordinator Miranda Mahoney said.
Prescriptions, especially if they’re opiates, she said, could begin someone’s road to addiction.
Matt’s Mission and Griswold PRIDE also joined forces to provide participating Jewett City businesses with Naloxone (a drug antagonist that reverses the effects of opioids) and an informational toolkit, which includes information about how to spot an overdose and administer the drug.
A syringe exchange program is another way addicts are being helped locally. The exchange, which is held every Friday between 1 and 3 p.m. behind Griswold Town Hall in Jewett City, is managed by Matt’s Mission, Perception Program and a Griswold PRIDE volunteer member.
“Data shows that anyone involved in this program is five times more likely to enter into treatment,” Dufficy said.
She added that she thinks this happens “because you’re accepting them and you develop a relationship with them, and they trust you. You’re not judging them, like a lot of people do.”
Plus, Kelly Barrett said the “resource is always there, so every time they come and do that exchange, they know that it’s so close. It’s right there. If they ever want it, we’re here. It’s amazing how thankful people are just for the kindness alone. They are thankful for, of course, the service that we’re providing, but they thank us for not judging them.”
Mahoney testified before the Connecticut legislature, “informing and educating policymakers on the pilot program” and its success in Griswold, she said. “Basically, it is connecting people to services via the police, all working with a licensed clinical social worker.”
State Rep. Brian Lanoue introduced a bill to expand the police Crisis Intervention Training Program statewide.
“It recently just got passed out of committee, and now it will be taken to the House floor for a vote. And it has the support of the whole Republican House Caucus,” Mahoney said.
Since the pandemic began last year, Mahoney said overdose rates have greatly increased.
“We’re seeing more substances laced with fentanyl than before — even marijuana. There’s been multiple marijuana overdoses. We’ve also seen upticks in overdoses when the stimulus checks have been released. COVID has affected everything.”
She added that people with mental health issues are just looking to escape, “but when you’re using alone, you have a higher risk of overdose death, because no one’s going to be there to save you.”
State troopers have responded to “a lot of overdoses” recently, said Jewett City Resident State Trooper Matthew Rei, who was on hand during the DEA’s Drug Take Back Day.
Trooper Rei said if someone is overdosing, troopers either aid the fire department and ambulance personnel, or, if they’re first on the scene, they will administer Narcan. In this situation, he said individuals are not charged with being in possession of drugs, because “it’s a medical call.”
Dufficy founded Matt’s Mission about five years ago in memory of her son.
“I felt I didn’t want his death to be in vain. I couldn’t help my son, but if we could just help one family through this, they wouldn’t have to go through what we went through.”
The mother/daughter duo said their volunteer efforts help them to heal from Matthew’s death.
“There’s no pain greater than the pain I feel of losing a child. You never get over it. I don’t care how many years (go by), it seems like yesterday. I still have that deep pain I had the day he passed. It will never go away,” Dufficy said.
“I agree that pain doesn’t go away. But in a way, he is still alive with us today. We’re doing all of this in his memory. And you know this is just an extension of his life. He’s just not physically here. That’s how I see it,” Kelly said.
To view a list of resources and a video library, donate or become a volunteer for Matt’s Mission in Jewett City, go online to www.MattsMission.net or call 860-341-1344.
Contact Griswold PRIDE by calling 860-841-3803 or go to www.griswoldpride.org for more data.
Access its evidence-based opioid prevention media campaign and toolkit by clicking “Get Help” and “Local Resources.”
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