Activists on Wednesday asked U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy for Washington’s help in supporting community recovery groups and compelling insurance companies to cover addiction treatment.
“If you’re on Medicaid or state insurance, you can breathe a sigh of relief, because they may be able to get you something,” said recovery activist Greg Williams, a Newtown native. “But if you are on private insurance or have cash, there is very little they can do for you. One of the real challenges we are grappling with ... is we need a fundamental financing shift.”
Murphy, who convened the mid-afternoon discussion about the opioid crisis at Danbury City Hall, said he is already working on the challenge with insurance companies.
“Legislation I wrote in 2016 called the Mental Health Reform Act changed the law to require insurers to start approving mental health and addiction treatments in the same way that they routinely approve treatment for cancer or a broken leg,” Murphy told a group of 40 activists and government officials.
Murphy added that earlier this week he introduced a bill that would pay for recovery coaches, who help people battling addiction in finding treatment, housing and support, similar to the model started in Connecticut.
“We have been a leading state in putting recovery coaches in emergency room departments and a multitude of other settings,” said Murphy. “It is these recovery coaches who can stick with people and make a difference.”
Murphy drew loud applause from the group, which included Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, Newtown First Selectman Dan Rosenthal and Miriam Delphin-Rittmon, commissioner of the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.
Part of Murphy’s warm reception was owing to the good news he brought about the budget signed last week by President Donald Trump, which allocates $3.6 billion in emergency funding to fight the opioid abuse epidemic.
More than 1,000 people died from accidental overdoses in Connecticut last year, an increase of 191 percent from 2012, according to the state chief medical examiner’s office. Many of 2017’s overdoses deaths were opioid-related.
“Details are still being worked out how that money will trickle down, but as Connecticut has about 1 percent of the population, we get about 1 percent of the money,” Murphy said. “That won’t solve all our problems in Connecticut, but it will be welcome relief and allow us to invest in some treatment programs and prevention that we haven’t been able to invest in.”
One area that needs Washington’s support is research about the effectiveness of family support groups, said a Newtown activist.
“What we know is that when families get involved in their loved ones’ recovery, those individuals end up faring much better,” said Donna DeLuca, co-founder of the family resource nonprofit, Community Action and Recovery Education and Support, or CARES. “In order to get the grants, we need to have research done on that.”
DeLuca’s son agreed.
“When families get educated and know better, they do better,” said Matt DeLuca, a co-founder of CARES.
Murphy closed the meeting by saying that Washington appeared to be turning the corner in its recognition of the nationwide opioid crisis.
“The emergency money signals that my colleagues have woken up to the fact that while in the end we hope to build prevention networks that stop people from becoming addicted in the first place, right now we desperately need to unclog the pathways of recovery,” Murphy said. “And this money will help do that.”