Warm Hand Off Program Receives $ 900,000 To Fight Opioid Overdoses In Waterbury – NBC Connecticut

Tackling the opioid crisis is an ongoing battle, but now Waterbury is getting a boost in that battle.

The city receives $ 900,000 in federal grants to help reduce opioid overdoses and deaths. It’s important funding as Connecticut’s opioid deaths increased 14 percent in 2020.

Health officials and advocates say the “Warm Hand-Off” program that receives this funding is making a world of difference

Rushnee Vereen-Penix knows how to take an intensive fight against opioid addiction.

“Mine started with a worker disability injury where I was prescribed medication and later became addicted,” she said. “It has influenced my life personally and professionally.”

Overcoming it taught them to speak openly and help others with addiction. She is now an Overdose Response Technician or ORT. These are overdose survivors who work with Waterbury Police and rescue workers to respond to emergencies.

“If you are in situations like this and you can share it, listen, I know what you are going through, I understand or I am recovering myself, often you see the exhale, a sigh of relief,” said Penix. “I have individuals who are more open.”

The federal investment in the “Warm Hand-Off” program will enable Waterbury to hire a new ORT along with a part-time employee to do data analysis.

However, crisis responses are only part of the solution. Another focus of the program is prevention.

“We make sure we don’t miss anyone,” said Samuel Bowens, director of prevention at the Waterbury Department of Health. “And make sure that we provide the appropriate services, regardless of whether it is support or willingness to treat. And if not, sometimes just with security material, in the lock, fentanyl test strips and so on literature. ”

The team helps thousands of people every month and they say the data reflects the success of the program.

“The numbers have increased in the state of Connecticut,” Bowens said. “We have seen a decrease in the death toll within the city of Waterbury.”

The Waterbury Department of Health reports that since the program started in 2019, fatal overdoses have decreased from 109 in 2019 to 94 in 2020 and to just 70 in 2021.

According to Aisling McGuckin, director of public health, this resource is vital during the pandemic.

“All of the pressures that affect us all are compounded when you have an addictive disorder,” said McGuckin. “I think that during the pandemic, because of employment issues and all the other accompanying factors, people were less able to find resources or find the time to seek resources.”

It’s a long fight, but survivor Vereen-Penix says he is against a pandemic of his own.

“It’s important because it’s a matter of life or death,” she said. “It affects age groups over the age of 18. So for me it’s a pandemic and it’s extremely important.”

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