NEW HAVEN >> Trish came prepared for Monday. She’s been preparing for years, really, starting with a battle pitting her against a heroin addiction that nearly left her without a family.
Trish, 38, is from New London and said she came from a middle-class family. She was 15 the first time she used heroin. It led to a span of more than 15 years of shooting heroin, enduring arrests and various substance abuse programs. There was a time when recovery seemed impossible; she sought help while pregnant, seeking a safe place for her child. The child she had in recovery is her third. She is the only child Trish has raised from birth.
Now, she will be seven years sober on May 11. Trish calls her eldest daughter, 22, her best friend. She’s said she’s working on improving her relationship with her middle child.
She said she wasn’t expecting to turn 20, let alone 30. That just was crazy, she said.
“I never thought I was going to make it,” Trish said. “I’m a walking example. That’s what addicts need to see. They need to see other people that are doing it.”
Trish, who declined to give her last name, addressed U.S. Sen. Christopher Murphy and staff members of The Connection, a 20-bed transitional facility that offers service for substance abuse and recovery, as part of a meeting on Monday. It was the third stop in Murphy’s five-city tour of the state to learn more about how and why heroin claimed the lives of 415 people in this state last year. Murphy also visited Lawrence + Memorial Hospital’s emergency room in New London, and a task force combatting the spread of the opioid in Groton earlier in the day.
“We have an epidemic in this country and we are closing our eyes to it by failing to provide emergency funding,” Murphy said after the meeting. “We spent (an estimated) $4 billion making sure that Ebola didn’t become an epidemic in the United States. We’re living in an epidemic of heroin deaths and we won’t appropriate a single dime for it.”
Trish is a former client of The Connection who said the nonprofit saved her life.
“I’m honored to be here,” Trish said during the meeting. “Today I feel like I’m a voice for people that suffer from heroin addiction.”
After the meeting, Trish said she finds the motivation to speak publicly about her addiction because spreading the message for recovery has turned into her passion. It’s not always easy to share he story, but it’s led her to devote her career to helping others overcome their addiction. She has worked as a house manager at a substance abuse recovery facility for six years.
“I don’t think I can do anything else,” Trish said. “I can show you that you can be a mom, you can be a dad, you can be a productive member of society.”
There are many state-supported and funded substance abuse agencies, like The Connection, assisting people across the state, but funding is growing increasingly more difficult to come by in this age. It’s especially difficult in Connecticut, where the state’s budget woes are severe. The Connection’s 2014 annual report shows it spent $45 million in grant expenditures between behavioral health, community justice and family support services. It was projected to surpass this amount in 2015.
Murphy, a member of the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, proposed allocating $600 million in emergency funding to combat heroin and prescription drug abuse earlier this month. The money would be added as part of the Recovery Enhancement for Addiction Treatment Act, according to a release from his office, and help to expand substance abuse services and resources.
Murphy said not enough Republicans in the Senate have supported the bill. His colleague in the House, U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3, is also pushing for funding for local substance abuse facilities.
Murphy’s travels in the state Monday will help build a “book of stories,” he said he will bring to Washington to help convince his cohorts to pass the legislation.
In addition to helping increase the availability of nalaxone, the overdose reversal drug that works nearly instantly, the state General Assembly is making an effort to limit the amount of prescription opioids people can receive as another way to address the issue. A majority of heroin addition stems from an initial abuse or addiction to painkillers.
Improving coordination for a “disconnected system” between government agencies, emergency personnel and the local organizations and facilities that help people fight addition could aid some funding concerns, Murphy said.
Murphy asked Trish during the meeting how he could ensure that someone receives help. She said more outreach is needed, as well as support from hospital staff.
“I knew there was meetings, right, but I didn’t know there was recovery,” Trish said. “Nobody told me there was recovery. And you can’t just go up to an addict that’s getting high and say, ‘Oh, recovery is possible,’ and keep moving.”