Murphy Sees An Opioid “Connection”

By:  Alan Appel
New Haven Independent

After a life on the streets and jail due to seven years of heroin addiction, Trish got clean, but only with the help of social workers and a unique program addressing the needs of addicted pregnant or parenting mothers.

She was exactly the kind of person U.S. Senator Chris Murphy wanted to hear from.

Murphy heard Trish’s story Monday afternoon at The Connection’s Recovery House at 48 Howe St. Trish—she did not want her last name used—participated in a round-table discussion there with the senator.

Murphy was on a day-long tour of facilities in the state dealing with different aspects of the opioid epidemic to underscore a sense of urgency.

His schedule included visits to the police department in Groton, a firehouse in Waterbury, an emergency room in New London, as well as New Haven’s The Connection’s Recovery House, a transitional housing facility for the addicted.

Murphy’s press materials reported that the opioid epidemic killed 450 people in Connecticut last year.

Murphy had just raced in from a visit to the emergency room at Lawrence and Memorial Hospital in New London, where his aim was to learn how the emergency room staff there deals with the surge of drug-related overdoses.

He said his mental health bill, which has already passed the Senate Health Committee, is expected to be voted on in the Senate when the body reconvenes in April. He said he came seeking firsthand knowledge of the epidemic the better to make his case to his colleagues to add funding to address the opioid crisis.

As Murphy took his seat in the wood-lined community room at The Connection’s Recovery House, a 90,000 square foot transitional housing facility for folks struggling not only with drug addition but mental illness and homelessness, the senator spoke of a need for urgency.

“I’m trying to highlight the [opioid] epidemic and the real lack of resources to meet the need,” he said. He pointed out that $4 billion was designated to eradicate five case of ebola in the U.S.

“And guess what? It worked,” he said.

“We’ve had hundreds of overdose deaths, and Congress won’t appropriate one dollar to a crisis that dwarfs ebola.”

Murphy listened intently to Trish’s brief biographical presentation — how she determined to beat her addiction when she became pregnant and wanted to have a child and was able to enroll in The Connection’s Mothers Retreat, a long-term residential program for pregnant and nursing mothers in Groton.

Then he responded: “Congratulations [on your recovery]. What lessons from your failures in your teens and 20s can you tell us so we can learn from?”

“Heroin is a drug that the first time you use it, you’ll never know that feeling again,” she replied.

“Once you’re in the grip, unless someone shows you outreach” and recovery, you’re not going to opt for it, she said.

She called for more outreach workers at the hospital emergency rooms to grab people right after they are detoxed so that recovery can begin immediately and backsliding averted.

“You’re not going to turn away a diabetic, someone with cancer. Why would you turn away an addict?” she asked rhetorically.

Another former addict and friend of Trish, who declined to be identified, said “Narcan [a drug used to treat overdoses] and detox are [for the] shorter term. I had opioid addictions for many years. If more long-term programs with job and coping skills” were available, that’s the longer term solution.

“Longer term treatment,” she concluded.

Trish, who now works in the recovery field but not for The Connection, said she wants to make the path to recovery available and real to people as soon as possible.

“I thought life was not possible without heroin. ... My biggest thing is I want to save everybody. I think there should be Narcan everywhere, but people need to know there is recovery.”

Vickie Alston, The Connection’s director of integrated health care and its interim clinical director, made another suggestion to Murphy. More integration of services, as Trish’s friend had suggested, like health and wellness programs. She also said policymakers should consider “a regionalization” of these integrated services.

“The needs are not the same here [in New Haven] as in Torrington,” she said.

Other Connection staffers called to Murphy’s attention that the numbers are indeed increasing, particularly among young people, who often get their start in the intimacy of their own homes.

Murphy then toured the transitional housing facilities at The Connection. For privacy reasons, the press was not allowed to accompany him.

The Connection, a private not-for-profit, was established in 1972. Headquartered in Middletown, with about 500 employees statewide, it has two facilities in New Haven, at 48 Howe St. and 205 Orange. At present there area bout 120 clients living at the transitional housing facility on Howe Street, with a duration of residence from 30 days to a year, said Director of Communications and Fund Development Beth Connor. Most of the funding comes from the state.

“There’s always a sense of crisis about the budget,” Connor said. She added that her group enthusiastically supports Murphy’s efforts.