MERIDEN — The city of Meriden and Rushford, a mental health and addiction services provider with Hartford Healthcare, received another $2 million grant Friday morning to support and expand the work of the Meriden Opioid Referral for Recovery program, also known as MORR.
"Over the next four years, we hope to increase program reach and work with community partners and those with lived and living experience to reduce stigma and barriers to treatment and recovery services, as well as increase our capacity in surveillance and data sharing,” said Meriden Health and Human Services Director Lea Crown in an email interview. “We are thrilled to be awarded this grant!"
The MORR program is a partnership between Rushford, Meriden first responders and the city health department to address the ongoing opioid epidemic. In 2021, 1,531 state residents died of a drug overdose, an 11% increase from 2020, reported the state Department of Public Health. So far this year, 24 in Meriden have died due to an overdose, according to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.
MORR began in 2018 with a four-year Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration grant as part of the First Responder Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act.
Its funding expired in September 2022 and the Meriden Health and Human Services Department used a $300,000 grant to sustain the program. The grant was awarded by the National Association of County and City Health Officials for the Implementing Overdose Prevention Strategies at the Local Level program.
The latest grant is a renewal of the original funding stream and will fund the MORR program at $500,000 annually until Sept. 29, 2027. It will overlap with the grant provided by the health department through late January.
MORR works on a referral system. After first responders intervene in an opioid overdose, they submit a referral application to MORR on behalf of the client. A clinical team member contacts the individual to connect them with treatment services or other vital resources, such as housing, clothing and food.
The program also supplies all the first responders with Narcan and provides free Narcan kits for community members at training events.
MORR previously reported that its collaborative tactics have been successful. Over the last four years, first responders administered 560 doses of Narcan. Of the individuals revived, MORR received 288 referrals from first responders and could connect with 76% of those referred.
In addition, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration staff interviewed the MORR team regarding best practices to learn how other health departments can employ them.
Rushford Director of Crisis and Community Programs Jessica Matyka previously told the Record-Journal that the referral system works because it tracks real-time overdoses and outreach.
"When we're notified that there was naloxone deployed in the community, within a couple of hours of that happening, we're able to follow up with that individual in the hospital," said Matyka. "It really gives us the best outcomes when we're able to connect with people that quickly."
Rushford also announced an on-site press conference on Wednesday, Oct. 11, at 10:30 a.m. to discuss how the new funds will be applied. Matyka, Crown, the President of Hartford Healthcare Central Region Gary Havican and Meriden Mayor Kevin Scarpati will be leading the discussion.
To learn more, visit the Meriden Harm Reduction and Overdose Prevention and Response webpage. If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, call 877-577-3233 to get in touch with MORR.
Reporter Cris Villalonga-Vivoni is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms. Support RFA reporters at the Record-Journal through a donation at https://bit.ly/3Pdb0re. To learn more about RFA, visit www.reportforamerica.org.