Matt’s Mission Aims To End Drug Addiction Stigma

Kimberley Cournoyer and Kathleen Dufficy are coordinating plans for Matt’s Mission, a benefit walk to fight the sigma of drug addiction. (Janice Steinhagen / Courant Community)

Kathleen Dufficy isn’t sure how her son’s addiction to opioids began, but she is painfully aware of how it ended — with his death in a car accident last November while under the influence, at the age of 32.

“I had to channel my grief into something positive,” said Dufficy. “I did not want him to die in vain.”

That impulse was the spark behind Matt’s Mission, a benefit walk that Dufficy and her 10-member committee is planning for Saturday, Sept. 24 at Griswold’s Veterans Memorial Park. The walk is meant to focus attention of the stigma connected with drug abuse, and the need to view substance addiction as a disease, rather than a moral failing or an object of scorn.

Dufficy said that her son had an accident that obliged him to take pain-killing medication, but she believes he may have started doing drugs even before that.

“It’s hard for you to believe your child could be doing that,” she said. “He had periods when he was clean, and periods when he was depressed.”

Matthew Barrett’s girlfriend, Kimberley Cournoyer, had known him since they were 15 years old, but had only reconnected with him in the last few years of his life. She said that the treatment options available to persons addicted to opioids are inadequate.

“It’s hard to get help when you only go in (to rehab) for four or five days,” she said. “That’s not enough.”

Barrett eventually ended up with a criminal record for felony drug possession, said Dufficy. That record made it impossible for him to get a job.

“He kept seeking employment, but couldn’t find it,” she said. “He was so disappointed. It’s just so sad when you see your kid struggle.”

Dufficy said she still has nightmares about the night her son died.

“I’m not sure what happened. I had dinner with him. He seemed fine that day,” she said.

She said she asks herself, ‘What could I have said the last time I saw him? Could it have changed the outcome?’

“Most likely not,” she admits. “I tried everything.”

Families who have not seen firsthand the effects of drug abuse can’t imagine how drugs can take hold of a person’s life and not let go, said Dufficy.

“I truly believe that unless it happens to you, that you see someone you love suffer from addiction, you can’t understand it,” she said. “To me, it’s like having diabetes. It’s not a choice. It’s a disease.”

“They can know heroin is addictive, but they go into it thinking, ‘I can do it only one time,'” said Cournoyer. “They don’t go in wanting to get addicted. If you knew the road it took you down, you wouldn’t want it.”

The walk is scheduled to start at 10 a.m. in Veterans Memorial Park on Ashland Street. The 2.5-mile route will progress through town and end back at the park, where there will be food, speakers, activities for children, live music, and raffles.

“We’re trying to make it a family-friendly event, because this starts with our children. The children are our future,” said Dufficy.

The registration fee for participants is $10 but children may participate for free. Dufficy said that the money raised will go to several local organizations that deal with substance abuse and addiction education and treatment services.

Participants who have lost a loved one to drug addiction are encouraged to bring a photo to add to a display on a memorial wall.

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Written by Janice Steinhagen

Janice Steinhagen began working for Reminder News/Courant Community in 2011. A veteran journalist of nearly 40 years, she has worked as a reporter for the Willimantic Chronicle, the Rose City Sentinel and the Mount Pleasant (PA) Journal. She was the founding editor for the Four County Catholic, the newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Norwich. Her work has appeared in magazines such as Art New England, Mothering and Threads. She is also the co-author of “Heart Sounds: Twelve Catholic Doctors.” Janice covers news in Griswold, Plainfield, Sprague, Sterling, Franklin, Baltic, Canterbury and Killingly.

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