It wasn’t the usual festive carnival atmosphere at Veterans Memorial Park in Jewett City on Sept. 8, despite the array of tables, tents, and decorations.
It was a celebration of a different sort.
“We want to celebrate and give hope to recovery [from drug addiction],” said organizer Kathleen Dufficy.
Her organization, Matt’s Mission, hosted the day-long event in an effort to shatter the stigma surrounding substance abuse and emphasize the resources that can help addicts and their families heal.
Dufficy established Matt’s Mission in honor of her son, Matthew Barrett, who died in November 2015 at age 32, in a car accident while driving under the influence of opioids. He had struggled for years to get into treatment and stay clean, but drugs robbed him of his ability to get a job – and eventually of his life.
Approximately 15 local agencies that provide treatment, prevention services, and other resources for those dealing with addiction had tables set up in the park during the event.
But the powerful visual centerpiece was the gallery of 140 photographs of people from across the state and region who lost their battle with addiction. Most of the faces were young, and each was they were described with a few words: father, artist, carpenter, musician, caring, loyal.
“You can imagine that behind each of them is a family and a community in grief,” said John Lally of Today I Matter, who provided the posters.
Lally, too, lost his son, Tim, to addiction.
“Nowhere on these posters does it say ‘addict,'” he said. “They were all so much more than that.”
“This is a problem of all of us,” said Lally. “Too many people have stereotypes and prejudices. They say, ‘They got what they deserved.’ But no one chooses to be an addict. It sneaks up on you and changes your brain, and your judgment is impaired. I used to figure [addiction] could never happen to my family. When I found out my son was a heroin addict, I was floored.”
The shame associated with drug addiction keeps many people from seeking treatment, said Lally.
“It’s a dirty little family secret,” he said. “People are ashamed and embarrassed, they feel judged by others.”
Dufficy sad that the event’s goal was to spread word about the availability of treatment options.
“If anyone needed treatment or wanted to speak to someone about a loved one, there was someone to talk to,” she said.
Among the guest speakers was Lt. Matthew Solak, of the Willimantic Police Department, who spoke about the department’s Heron/Opioid Prevention and Education (HOPE) Program. The program permits people with addiction disorders to walk into the police station and ask for help. Police officers will get the addict to a local emergency room for evaluation and connect them to treatment services, she sad.
Other speakers included Tammy Delacruz, of Community Speaks Out; Jack Malone, executive director of the Southeastern Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence (SCADD); and a number of people who are n recovery from addiction.
David Drobiak even composed a special song in honor of the occasion.
“So many people came to me and said there was hope that came out of the event,” said Dufficy. “It’s a struggle, but there was hope. One young lady came up to me just before the event started and said, ‘You helped my friend. He’s here today. He’s in recovery.’ That touched my heart. You hear about the success stores later.”
Written by Janice Steinhagen
Janice Steinhagen began working for Courant Community in 2011. She is a veteran journalist of nearly 40 years. She was the founding editor for the Four County Catholic. She is also the co-author of “Heart Sounds: Twelve Catholic Doctors.” She covers Griswold, Plainfield, Sprague, Sterling, Franklin, Baltic, Canterbury and Killingly.