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Courtney Announces $250,000 in Federal Funding to Support Eastern CT Substance Use Prevention in Roundtable Discussion on the Opioid Epidemic Amid COVID-19

October 30, 2020
Press Release

NORWICH, CT – Today, Rep. Joe Courtney (CT-02) hosted eastern Connecticut health care providers, addiction prevention experts, and leaders in the fight against the opioid epidemic for a virtual roundtable discussion on substance use prevention, treatment and recovery efforts amid COVID-19. Courtney also shared with participants a new $250,000 in federal grant funding, announced just today, that will support prevention efforts across eastern Connecticut.

On the call, Rep. Courtney was joined by Rayallen Bergman (Drug Free Communities Coordinator, Norwich Youth & Family Services), Miranda Mahoney (Project Coordinator, Griswold PRIDE), Michael Doyle (Unit Director, Penobscot Place Recovery Coach Program, Reliance Health), and Deanna Delaney (Norwich Recovery Coach, Reliance Health). He also welcomed to the discussion Kathleen Dufficy, the President and Founder of Matt’s Mission—a non-profit organization located in Jewett City, CT, dedicated to ending the stigma of drug addiction and treating addiction as a disease. Kelly Barret (Vice President of Matt’s Mission) also participated in today’s discussion.

In July, the New York Times reported that drug overdose deaths in America were resurging to record levels, and that the coronavirus pandemic was complicating and perhaps worsening the epidemic. In Connecticut, from January to July of 2020, there was a 20% increase in unintentional drug overdose deaths as compared to the same time frame of January to July of 2019.

Today’s discussion focused on the unique challenges that organizations dedicated to addiction intervention and recovery are facing amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic—particularly the difficulties of serving at-risk communities in the face of public health concerns and reduced funding.

At the top of the call, Rep. Courtney announced that today, the federal Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) awarded two federal grants totaling $250,000 to support addiction prevention and recovery efforts in Norwich, Andover, Hebron, and Marlborough. Both grant awards were dispersed through ONDCP’s Drug Free Communities program, and will provide continuing funding to strengthen infrastructure among local partners to create and sustain a reduction in local youth substance abuse. The City of Norwich will receive a $125,000 grant award to support the Norwich Prevention Council. Andover, Hebron, and Marlborough Youth and Family Services will also receive a grant award of $125,000 to support their Coalition for a Healthy Empowered Community (CHEC) program.

“Our communities have shown a lot of toughness in battling COVID-19, but what our partners today realize more than anyone else is that eastern Connecticut is really facing a collision of epidemics,” said Congressman Courtney. “The national opioid epidemic has hurt so many families in our region, and it hasn’t slowed down during this pandemic—in fact, the data show that the problem has fed on the strained resources and increased isolation during COVID. The panelists we had on today’s call are the ones leading the way in eastern Connecticut to drive these numbers back down. Folks like Kathleen Dufficy and her team at Matt’s Mission, addiction intervention coordinators like Rayallen Bergman in Norwich and Miranda Mahoney in Griswold, and our other panelists today are performing truly lifesaving work. I was glad to announce a new round of $250,000 in federal funding to support them, and grateful for their feedback in today’s discussion.”

On the call, panelists discussed the challenges COVID has presented to their organizations, how they are working to respond, and what they need in terms of continued support. To watch a recording of the discussion, click here.

Matt’s Mission President Kathleen Dufficy and Vice President Kelly Barret noted that their work to support individuals going through the addiction recovery process has been impacted by COVID-19, but that it hasn’t stopped.

“We connect people to services and treatment, we support them through the recovery process, […] and really just try to break down the barriers they face on the path to recovery,” said Kelly Barret, Vice President of Matt’s Mission. “[…] We distribute Narcan, or Naloxone, to local businesses so they are prepared […], and we’ve done a cell phone project to get people in recovery access to phones, because that is so important while they connect to jobs and treatments and other services. Self-isolation brings back triggers and can lead to setbacks in recovery, and we’re seeing that now all over the place. Connection and support are key, and with COVID, a lot of that has been reduced or gone altogether. […] For us, we’re a small non-profit, funding has been a big issue because we’re small. What we really need is funding to keep moving forward with our mission, but also to compensate for all of the changes we’ve had to make during COVID.”

Miranda Mahoney provided an updated on Griswold PRIDE’s work in the fight against opioid addiction since the pandemic began in early 2020, including finding new ways to reach populations who need these services the most—including with student and youth populations.

“What has been amazing is that during all of this [has been] connecting the youth to advisors through Zoom for mental health,” said Miranda Mahoney, Project Coordinator at Griswold PRIDE. “We actually formed a youth group with CRAC during all of this. Most agencies are having a hard time connecting with the youth and keeping them connected and engaged during the pandemic, but we have this group of youth that continues to meet. They kind of organically found their purpose, and they want to help other teens. […] It’s been really amazing to see. I think the bond that we formed was strictly because we at the height of quarantine and during isolation.”

Michael Doyle, who directs addiction recovery coaching programs in Norwich, spoke about Reliance Health’s hurdles and successes in adapting their services amid COVID-19.

“It was a little difficult at the beginning, because people—it just wasn’t the same,” said Michael Doyle, Unit Director, Penobscot Place Recovery Coach Program (Reliance Health). “But I think as time has gone on, people are actually starting to get it a little bit, get on board with it a little bit more […]. We’ve actually partnered with the Norwich Police Department and our local first responders, and we’re following up with any overdoses that happen in town. Anybody that has Narcan administered, we’re going out and knocking on their door and meeting with them, making sure they have Narcan and training their family and friends. We did a virtual Narcan training last month where sixteen people attended. That’s working really well with this because we’re actually reaching some of the people we wouldn’t normally reach.”

To hear feedback from all of today’s panelists on addiction recovery efforts across eastern Connecticut, click here.