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Guilford resident helping addiction treatment center expand to New London

September 3, 2018

New London — As a Madison-based addiction treatment center prepares to expand to the city, a Guilford resident who lost her brother to the disease is using art to spread the word.

The Center for Compassionate Recovery has been operating at 17 Wall St. in Madison for almost three years. Clients, seen within 24 to 48 hours of calling, see a physician to learn whether they’re eligible for Suboxone — a blend of buprenorphine and naloxone that reduces the symptoms of withdrawal — and a therapist for a psychological assessment.

Dr. Marc Bono, clinical director of the center, has said it’s unusual for physicians and clinicians to work so closely in opioid addiction treatment.

The agency is expanding to 419 Montauk Ave. on Oct. 1, administrator Pamela Ryder said, bringing 17 clients from Madison and expecting to grow from there.

One physician from the Madison location will act as the prescriber on Mondays, while another soon will join the company to handle the rest of the workweek. The center also has brought on a new therapist for New London and may hire one more before the end of the year.

Including those attending group and individual therapy and those getting prescriptions, the Madison location sees about 100 patients a week, Ryder said.

“I suspect we’ll have that kind of traffic (in New London) — maybe even more so than in Madison,” she said. “But we do pull in Madison. It’s amazing how far people come.”

New London last year saw 14 overdose deaths, while Norwich saw 32 — the second highest per capita among Connecticut towns with at least 10,000 residents.

The hospitals in Norwich and New London each handle an average of 30 overdose visits per month, state Department of Public Health data show.

“Our goal has been to open locations in key parts of the state,” said Ryder, who said Medicaid only has to fund treatment at the closest eligible center. “The more access people have, the better.”

‘I finally feel alive again’

Guilford resident Melissa Blondin, 39, began working as an outreach coordinator for the center early this summer.

She saw an advertisement for the job on indeed.com and applied even though it didn’t pay full-time.

“I don’t think I have ever wanted a job so bad in my life,” she said.

Blondin spends most of her time in meetings — in police departments, courts, hospitals, nonprofits — talking about what the Center for Compassionate Recovery does and telling the story of her brother, John Blondin, who died March 3, 2011, of a heroin overdose. He was 30 — just 18 months younger than his sister.

Blondin, her brother and his twin, Jason, grew up in North Haven. Blondin learned from friends that John, a high school student at the time, was dabbling in drugs and quickly arranged an intervention, she said — he was among her best friends, after all.

“He looked at us and laughed and walked out the door,” Blondin said.

John eventually agreed to treatment, but usually it consisted only of detoxification and methadone maintenance, which don’t examine the underlying cause of a person’s addiction.

Blondin said she likes that the Center for Compassionate Recovery requires therapy for its clients. She isn’t sure what led to John’s final relapse — he had been sober in the years leading up to it — but believes therapy could have helped him.

John’s death threw Blondin into a tailspin. She didn’t finish school and feels guilty now for the times she didn’t give her son, Layne Hulcher, her all.

But it also is the inspiration for the work she does now. Beyond working for the center, Blondin also creates seaweed artwork — hearts, flowers, collages — and sells it to supplement her outreach.

She fell in love with the idea during her “last happy semester” at Southern Connecticut State University, when biology professor Sean Grace asked students to collect as many species of seaweed as they could and present them in a book.

Blondin said she traveled from Rhode Island to New York during the project and bought special paper and labels to recreate what a scientist might do.

“I had this huge collection,” she said. “My book fell apart.”

Blondin started Blue Ocean Art Gallery LLC earlier this year and recently attended shows in Madison, New London and Mystic. She hopes to launch a “Hearts for Hope” campaign to benefit her work with the treatment center and one day would like her business to become a nonprofit.

After John’s death, Blondin “didn’t leave the bedroom for months,” she said. “Now I finally feel alive again. It’s a no-brainer, really. If I can educate other people, if my story makes one person seek treatment, then it’s worth it.”

Call (203) 245-0412 to learn more about the Center for Compassionate Recovery.

l.boyle@theday.com

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