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CT group gets federal funding to help fight opioid epidemic

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Maricarmen Cajahuaringa
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Connecticut Public
From left: Michele Klimczak, Assistant Vice President of Training and Grant Management; Middletown Mayor Ben Florsheim; U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal; Lisa DeMatteis-Lepore, CEO of The Connection; Beth Connor, chief business development officer at The Connection; and Nikita Joslyn, Director of Business Development with The Connection.

A Middletown social services nonprofit is getting $243,000 in federal funding for its mental health and substance abuse programs, including renovations to a treatment center for women and children.

The announcement was made on Monday with local and state officials.

The Connection is excited to get the funding, said Lisa DeMatteis-Lepore, the nonprofit’s CEO. The organization will use the funding to provide integrated CPR, mental health, and training for their front-line staff to use Narcan, an overdose-reversal drug. 

Funding will also help people across the state with issues such as homelessness, substance use disorder and community justice rehabilitation.

“Helping out our communities to fight the opioid epidemic is a vital component to make our state healthier,“ DeMatteis-Lepore said.

The organization has big plans for the Hallie House, a residential program for women and children. Officials plan to renovate the kitchen and common areas.

The federal funding will also help the organization open 1,000 complimentary enrollments for youth and general mental health first-aid training.

“The Connection will continue to help individuals from all walks of life to change generational cycles of abuse and neglect,” DeMatteis-Lepore said.

Collaborating with the community can help Connecticut overcome the epidemic of opioid abuse by focusing on education and training, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said.

The federal funds would give front-line staff tools to use in the field, teach others how to identify mental illness and reach out to people with substance use disorder to connect them to other rehabilitation programs, Blumenthal said.

Overdose deaths involving fentanyl continue to be a problem across Connecticut, state officials said. According to the Connecticut Department of Public Health, there were more than 1,100 confirmed fatal overdoses between January and November 2022. Of those deaths, 85% involved fentanyl; the remaining included other drugs such as xylazine (an animal tranquilizer) and gabapentin.

The report also mentions that in 2021 the death rate was disproportionately higher among people in the Black and Hispanic communities.

A report by the National Institute of Drug Abuse said that women are more sensitive to pain than men and more likely to have chronic pain; women are also more likely to misuse antidepressants, “which could contribute to the high rates of opioid prescriptions among women of reproductive age.”

Blumenthal said the Hallie House, through its focus on women, is “a model of what we need.”

“The Connection, in its training and ability to identify and reach out to people who suffer from mental illness or substance use disorder, is so critical in this fight for public mental health,” Blumenthal said.

He said the mental health field needs more resources to train professionals to help save lives.

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