GCC Recovery Fair Provides Information about Resources, Overdose Prevention

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Addiction landed Curtis Anderson and Daryl McGraw in prison, but both found different paths to recovery, and their messages of hope showed that success in life after long-term drug use is possible.

Anderson and McGraw shared their stories at the Gateway Community College (GCC) Recovery Fair on Tuesday, Nov. 13.  The fair is an annual event planned to provide information about recovery, resources, and overdose prevention.  Representatives from Al-Anon, Help, Inc., Mountainside Treatment Center, the APT Foundation, and the Recovery Network of Programs, Inc. were among more than 20 agencies on hand to answer questions and distribute educational materials.  Narcan/Naloxone, a drug used to prevent overdose deaths, also was displayed, questions were answered, and prescriptions provided.

The event was sponsored by the Connecticut Statewide Healthy Campus Initiative, developed by the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services in partnership with 25 institutions of higher education focused on reducing high-risk alcohol and drug use on state campuses.

Anderson, a graduate of GCC’s Drug and Alcohol Recovery Counselor (DARC) program, said that addiction led him to prison, but through his recovery, he was able to change his story.  Anderson saw an opportunity to take classes at GCC and seized the chance to go in a new direction.  From that point on, he began to view himself differently.

“I saw myself, not as an ex-offender, but as a student,” said Anderson, who believes addiction should not be criminalized and now works with the American Civil Liberties Union.

Anderson said that he advocates for education and a reduction in the prison population, noting that fear of withdrawal is a driver of behavior.

“We are the voice for the unheard,” he said.  “We all work in this field because we care.”

McGraw, now Chief Executive Officer at Formerly, Inc., told a harrowing story of smoking crack and eventually having an encounter with police where he was tased and had to be hospitalized.  Feeling horrible when he finally woke up, McGraw said the look of disgust on the face of the nurse treating him made a lasting impression.  He realized that something had to change.

Standing before a judge begging for treatment, McGraw recalls the judge telling him that the prison could provide drug treatment.  McGraw obtained his General Education Diploma and began to make a five-year plan, which included obtaining a college degree, becoming a drug counselor, and buying a home.  He achieved all of his goals – making the home purchase exactly five years to the day from when he left prison.    

Cher A. Shannon, MHSA, LADC, program coordinator of the DARC program, said that addiction is a chronic brain disorder that changes how the brain works.  Shannon said that 10 percent of recovery takes place in rehabilitation and 90 percent occurs in life, so those in recovery need support.

“Recovery is hard and those open to changing their lives need all of the help we in this room can offer and more because, in the end, recovery is possible and more than worth it,” she said.

She noted that overdoses are an increasing concern, as statistics show that during the first four months of 2018, there were 3,090 suspected overdoses at emergency rooms in the state’s 27 acute care hospitals.  Cards distributed at the fair show what an overdose looks like and what to do.  To provide further information, Melissa Zuppardi, a counselor from the Grant Street Partnership Cornell Scott Hill Health Corporation, came to the fair to provide additional guidelines about how to handle an overdose.

Zuppardi said that the use of Narcan, an overdose antidote, was being addressed because the drugs on the streets right now are extremely potent and unpredictable so overdoses are happening more and more frequently.  She said loud snoring, gurgling and the inability to wake a person are just a few possible symptoms.

Zuppardi advised calling 911 before using Narcan, which can be dispensed in the nostril.  She also cautioned those responding to this type of emergency not to touch anything because drug exposure can easily occur and even police dogs will require Narcan kits because they are responding to scenes and overdosing from sniffing.