The city is now home to a new mobile unit that aims to help combat the opioid overdose epidemic through what is billed as an “innovative” way to help individuals and families impacted by substance use.
Officials gathered Oct. 25 at St. Vincent De Paul Middletown on Main Street to christen the Hartford-based Village for Families & Children’s new expanded recovery vehicle (VERV) program, which provides peer support, case management, harm reduction resources, and connection to treatment for those impacted by opiate and substance use, according to the agency.
Barbara McClane, a Middletown resident who is in recovery and has had two decades of sobriety, spoke to the crowd gathered for the event, according to a video she posted on her Facebook page.
“This is a very powerful, changing moment,” she said. “One step forward reinforces change. Without that community, without that support, I could not stand here and say that I just celebrated 20 years,” said McClane, author of “Blessed Not Bitter: The Barbara McClane Journey.”
Members of the Greater Middletown Opioids Task Force and local partners, including Kevin Elak, director of the Middletown Health Department, spoke about VERV’s importance within the community.
Others involved in bringing the service to Middletown include the Community Health Center; Catherine Rees of Middlesex Health; Weldon Russell, director of the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce Recovery Employment Program; and the Rev. Robyn Anderson, executive director of the Ministerial Health Fellowship.
As of Oct. 5, there have been 14 opioid-related overdose deaths in Middletown compared to 20 in 2022, Elak said, citing the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.
“This is a great collaboration, and it shows that we, as a community, show support for people in our community that are afflicted with the disease of addiction and substance use,” Elak said at last week’s Downtown Business District meeting.
“We want to let everybody know that people shouldn’t be ashamed of their disease and to come out and get help,” Elak added. “This isn’t a downtown issue, this is a city-wide issue. It’s another tool in our toolbox.”
Staff work in collaboration with community partners and also provide support and resources, such as Narcan.
The idea of a mobile unit came to fruition following a meeting attended by Sarah Messier-Smith, senior program director of VERV, and Russell, who approached VERV staff following a discussion about bringing the initiative to Middletown, Messier-Smith said in a statement.
“We reviewed overdose data using the Overdose Detection Mapping Application Program, and noticed significant and persistent overdose spikes in the Main Street Middletown area,” she said.
The program gathers near real-time data.
“Having resources in Middletown such as the Village RV shows the community, especially people with substance use challenges, that there is hope and help available,” Health Director Kevin Elak said Monday.
“Not one person or agency can do it alone. It’s an all-hands-on-deck approach,” he explained.
Staffed by Village recovery coaches and case managers, the van will be a weekly fixture every Wednesday at 617 Main St.
For information, visit thevillage.org/verv.