Federal Officials Visit Putnam During Opioid Epidemic Awareness Week

October 03, 2016

Regina LeBelle, chief of staff for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, and Bryan Hurlburt, Connecticut state director of the USDA Farm Service, visited Community Health Resources in Putnam on Sept. 19 as part of the Prescription Opioid and Heroin Epidemic Awareness Week.

The two were on a listening tour in Connecticut. Earlier in the day, they had met in Tolland with firefighters, police, lawyers, and other community members who spoke about a range of problems associated with the opioid addiction epidemic.

In Putnam, they met with several women participating in the New Life program at CHR. The program is a residential treatment program for women with infants and toddlers. Several of the women held babies in their arms.

The women shared a list of barriers they had overcome before finding treatment for their addictions.

One woman got into the CHR program after getting arrested.

"I had to get locked up before I could get help," she said. "If you're asking for help, you should be able to get it."

Another woman was clean for a month, but was told she was doing too well to get accepted into a recovery program.

"You'd think that would be a plus," she said.

CHR Adult Service Director Winnie Neville called the area's lack of services staggering.

"There's no place for treatment," she said.

Beyond that, there are numerous stumbling blocks for people trying to deal with substance abuse. Add children to the mix, and those stumbling blocks multiply.

Few treatment programs exist in the state. There are no services for those under the age of 18. The stigma of addiction stops people from seeking help. The stigma even stops parents from wanting to hear about a son or daughter in trouble.

CHR's Pathways Opiate Treatment Center provides daily methadone doses to 166 clients. Of those, approximately 20 are self-paying clients. Husky insurance covers methadone treatment, but most insurance plans do not. The cost can run up to $110 weekly for seven doses of methadone and the counseling session required.

"Methadone is extremely successful for people on opiates," Neville said. "But commercial insurance won't pay. These people are trying to get on their feet after years of losing everything. They just don't have an extra $110 a week."

She would like to see subsidies to help people get methadone treatment.

Dr. Laura Ruoff, a psychiatrist with CHR, said access to medical treatment is necessary to address the opioid addiction.

"It's hard to find providers to refer patients to," she said.

Comprehensive case management and programs that deal with dual diagnoses, like mental health issues and substance abuse, are crucial. Many rural poor don't have access to basic necessities, including transportation. And when people don't have transportation, they have trouble keeping appointments.

Jennifer Kollar, a program director at CHR, called education paramount.

"People don't understand the connection between crime and opiate abuse," she said. "If people are addicted to opiates, that doesn't mean they're immoral."

The women's stories illustrated just how hard it can be for someone with a substance abuse problem. Some lost custody of their children. Some had relapsed a few times. Some had lost everything.

"I don't want to use," one woman said, "but it's hard to get over."

They all said CHR was a lifeline for them.

"It's not just about stopping," a woman said. "It's all the other things we need help with. How to live life, how to be a better mom, how to prevent relapse."

"If I hadn't come I wouldn't be with my daughter," one woman said.

The infant slept wrapped up in a blanket in her arms.

"I'm grateful to CHR," she said.

LeBelle and Hurlburt thanked the women for sharing their stories.

"Having your stories out there is important," LeBelle said. "You can't hate up close."

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Copyright © 2016, Courant Community

Article by - Denise Coffey, Staff Writer

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