New Haven rehab center helps US attorney learn about addiction treatments, amid aim to target opioid crisis

This article originally appeared in the New Haven Register written by Anna Bisaro. The photograph is by Arnold Gold. 

NEW HAVEN >> Sitting next to the U.S. Attorney for the District of Connecticut, Gloria told the conference room full of federal prosecutors, investigators, and healthcare providers that she has detoxed from an alcohol addiction 15 times.

“It’s very hard to start your life over when you’ve lost everything,” Gloria said. “And that’s where I keep finding myself.”

Gloria works in food service locally and allowed the Register to use her story on the condition that her last name not be published. She’s a graduate of the University of New Haven, and said had much different goals and dreams for herself growing up. But the alcoholism that runs in her family and the trauma of her past caught up to her nine years ago and pushed her to addiction.

“It’s not something I chose,” Gloria said. “I don’t want to live my life like this.”

And Connecticut U.S. Attorney Deirdre Daly said she completely understood.

“You’re a victim of a disease and we recognize that,” Daly said. “It takes tremendous courage to do what you’re doing.”

Speaking with Gloria was Daly’s last stop on a facility tour of the South Central Rehabilitation Center in New Haven Tuesday afternoon. The visit was aimed at making connections with rehabilitation centers during what U.S. President Barack Obama has deemed Prescription Opioid and Heroin Epidemic Awareness Week, to find ways in which the U.S. Attorney’s Office could expand their fight against the opioid epidemic outside of the courtroom.

“We cannot arrest our way out of this (epidemic),” Daly said.

Daly said that this year the U.S. Attorney’s Office has focused on asking local police departments to treat any place where an overdose has occurred like a crime scene. More than two dozen investigations after accidental overdoses this year have resulted in federal arrests of those believed to have been the providers of the drugs involved in the overdose.

While federal prosecutors normally deal with more violent crimes, Daly said she did not feel her office could do nothing when opioid addiction was a clear problem in the state.

“We just feel that if death results we have to do something,” Daly said.

In many of these cases there are witnesses and family members left behind that may need treatment, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Spector, who also visited the rehabilitation center Tuesday. Some of the victims of overdose do not die, he said, and added that it was important for him to know what treatment was available for them.

Spector regularly works with witnesses and families as part of the investigation into these overdose cases as he works to prosecute offenders.

“Many of our witnesses and families… need treatment,” Spector said. He added that he wanted to be able to refer people, “especially witnesses who may not be in the system.”

The South Central Rehabilitation Center is part of the Cornell Scott Hill Health Corporation, which is currently providing methadone treatment to more than 500 clients, according to Benjamin Metcalf, the program director at the rehabilitation center. The center only has the ability to treat patients 18 and older, he said.

“It fluctuates daily, but we can always make room,” he said.

The center strives to provide a holistic approach to addiction recovery, complete with therapy, group sessions, infectious disease care, and naloxone (opioid antidote) trainings.

“When they come to us, it’s inadequate for us to deal with one aspect of their health issues,” said Michael Taylor, chief executive officer for the health corporation. “We are in the care business.”

He added that one of the biggest challenges for the group now is having spaces to house people as they become stable in their sobriety.

But, in terms of what the U.S. Attorney’s Office could help with, healthcare providers at the rehabilitation center told Daly that she was welcome to send former convicts to the center or have the U.S. Probation Office refer defendants to the center for treatment. In addition, providers asked if her office could be stricter on providers who doctors at the center believe are prescribing too high amounts of benzodiazepines (also known as tranquilizers) and other addictive drugs.

“We have a big concern with patients being prescribed benzodiazepines,” Metcalf said. He added that there are an increasing number of clients who are struggling with addictions to those drugs.

Dr. Ece Tek, the chief of behavioral health for the group, added that the center cannot prescribe methadone to clients struggling with a heroin addiction if they are taking benzodiazepines because the combination of methadone and benzodiazepines may be lethal.

The group decided to reconvene at a later date to work out more detailed plans.

Daly said at the end of her visit that she recognized how intense treatment for addiction is, and reminded Gloria that the U.S. Attorney’s Office was “standing in solidarity” with her and others working to beat their addictions.

“You’ve gotten up a lot of times before,” Daly said to Gloria before she left. “You have a lot of life to live and you should do that.”

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