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Norwich recovery coach project could expand across state

January 27, 2019

Norwich — A pilot project that uses the state 211 system to pair callers with an addiction recovery coach is going well and could be replicated across the state, officials recently said.

Called the Coordinated Addiction Recovery System, or CARS, the program began in the fall and is overseen by Reliance Health Inc., a Norwich-based mental health center.

Many people in Connecticut already call 211, a 24/7 hotline, if they need help with food, shelter or medical services, including treatment for addiction.

Now, if a caller asks for help with drug abuse or misuse and lives in the 28-zip code area covered by CARS, 211 will alert the CARS recovery coach, Deanna Delaney.

Delaney, who is five years into recovery from opioid addiction, said her mandate is to respond within 48 hours, but she often reaches out more quickly. She knows from experience there isn’t much time between when people want help and when they’ve changed their minds.

“The cool thing about it is that, before this, somebody could call 211 and get phone numbers and call an advocate for themselves, which is really hard — especially for people trying to get sober,” Delaney said. “Now, when I get the referral, I get to be a motivator. I get to reach out and be like, ‘Let’s do this.’”

Delaney’s days vary widely. She takes calls from people who need advice or to be talked through a low point. She drives those in recovery — many of whom have lost their jobs, homes, cars and friends — to appointments and meetings, including group meetings hosted at Reliance Health for people in recovery. And she connects CARS members to other people who are in recovery in southeastern Connecticut so they can build their own networks.

Program Director Mike Doyle said CARS is working with 47 of the 51 people who have been referred to the program. Forty-three of them work with Delaney and/or attend recovery-based meetings, while 27 have entered some form of treatment, from detoxification to inpatient programs.

Doyle said he was shocked into action by a 2017 article in The Day that showed 19 people had fatally overdosed in Norwich in the first half of that year.

“I thought, ’19 (fatal) overdoses? That’s crazy,’” he said.

He knew people could call 211 and be connected to housing. He wondered whether they could call and be connected directly to a recovery coach.

Doyle floated the idea, got support from his bosses and from 211, and by December had gotten a two-year, $75,000 grant from the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services. The grant, being managed by Norwich Human Services, will fund Delaney’s position and marketing of the program.

“It kind of blew me away, the speed with which this thing materialized,” Doyle said. “We could repeat this potentially all over the state.”

Annie Scully, research analyst and community outreach coordinator for 211, confirmed CARS is the only program 211 works with directly, although it does let people know how to reach other recovery coaches around the state.

“But we’re hoping to eventually roll this out elsewhere in the state,” Scully said. “We’re tracking the numbers and everything to see how it’s going.”

‘I don’t know if I’d still be sober’

Delaney said a key element of CARS is that she and Doyle have experience to which its members can relate.

Delaney, 30, said she used drugs for about six years, starting with pills and alcohol before turning to heroin.

Doyle began drinking alcohol at age 11 and was doing so almost daily by the time he was in college. Now 47, Doyle has been sober for 19 years.

“I know what it’s like to get up in the morning and have to take a drink so I can function,” Doyle said. “When you talk to me about compulsion, I get that. Even after 19 years of sobriety, sometimes people say something that gets me right back to where I was.”

“People are shocked when they call a state agency and then I show up,” Delaney said. “The bond is intense.”

CARS member Jesse Annunziata, 38, agreed. She spent 90 days at Stonehaven in Middletown, a residential treatment program, before being discharged in September with nowhere to call home — a common situation among CARS members, Doyle said.

“I lost a lot of things because of addiction and housing was one of them,” said Annunziata, who is staying at the shelter in New London.

Delaney “has been such a great support as far as helping me with resources like housing and meetings,” she said. “If it wasn’t for CARS and Deanna ... I don’t know if I’d still be sober.”

Annunziata, who had used heroin and alcohol on and off since 2002, is working to get out of the shelter and into her own place. She plans to become a certified recovery coach, too.

Doyle, Delaney and Annunziata don’t use medication-assisted treatment, which combines therapy and medications that reduce withdrawal symptoms, but they understand its value. Delaney said she lays out all options for each person she contacts.

“Before this, I worked as a counselor in a methadone and Suboxone clinic,” Doyle said. “Some people wanted to eventually taper off. Some were going to (be on medication) for the rest of their life.”

“I’ve seen both strategies give people their lives back,” he said. “We’ll talk about all of the options but it’s your choice. One of our main values is choice.”

l.boyle@theday.com

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