Special to The Herald
Mary Marcuccio, a former Southington resident, has first-hand experience in dealing with the opioid crisis-her own son once suffered at the hands of the nagging disease of opioid addiction.
Marcuccio does not live in the past, however. Mary currently works and lives in Florida, partnering with addicts and the families of addicts from across the nation. Her organization, My Bottom Line, coaches parents of addicts, as well as the addicts themselves, on how to proceed after an overdose and how to begin the route to recovery.
Many of the addicts she works with have been revived by Narcan-a medication known to block the effects of opioids-namely in instances where an overdose has occurred. Once only available for use by physicians and medical professionals, Narcan or naloxone now comes in the form of a nasal-spray, and is available as something that works like, and resembles, an Epi-pen. Many first responders now carry Narcan and can administered it. But that wasn’t always the case.
Eleven years ago, while still living in Southington, Marcuccio started a nonprofit organization called Parents for a Change which dealt with cases of addiction in a localized way. Conversely, the family consultation she does for My Bottom Line handles cases from around the country. Marcuccio said she started this business two years ago. She has had success in these past 11 years, recalling a particular Bristol resident that she helped get into treatment in Florida. The Bristol man had a fairly long drug history, using for five years every day, and was brought back to the land of the living when his mother revived him by using Narcan. Marcuccio notes that the man’s mother fell victim to a Connecticut law that Marcuccio called “so preposterous.” At that time, the man’s mother faced possible prosecution for administering Narcan, because, until recently, a civilian was prohibited from administering the substance. Marcuccio viewed this as a “Hands on real time example of why the law needed to be changed.
Mike recalled the day he overdosed with vivid clarity. “April 3, 2009. That’s when my parents found me overdosed in my room. I had overdosed and fell out-you basically collapse over yourself and I had a needle, I was an IV heroin user, sticking in the side of my bed that my dad had to pull out. When they found me I think I was like 150 pounds, soaking wet. To put that into consideration of how big I am, I’m 6’3”. I was 18 or 19 when this happened.”
When Mike and his parents reached the hospital, the doctor asked Mike’s mother where she had procured the Narcan.
Mike’s parents got him the help he needed and he eventually went down to Florida where Mary got him into a rehabilitation center. Mary and Mike’s mother worked together to become part of a testimony in favor of a sensible Narcan law.
Their efforts yielded successful results. The first phase of legislation change in Connecticut was that “Any person can get a prescription for Narcan,” the second, “Any person can administer Narcan without prosecution,” and most recently the law has been updated to allow pharmacies to sell Narcan over-the-counter.
Marcuccio feels that the best way to begin counseling a family of a drug user-especially one like Mike’s who were witness to his overdose-is to help them understand that “Immediate action should be taken right now. The other side of the coin is education. We as families, in most cases, are enabling the drug user. What must be figured out is how to isolate what needs to be changed, and how to start making those changes. Speaking as a family member of a drug addict that enabled him, we need to change ourselves in order to make changes for the drug user.” Marcuccio stresses that it is important for the family of a user to understand “we didn’t necessarily cause the use, but in most cases we are participating in that unhealthy lifestyle.”
As the opioid epidemic continues to act as a malicious force, strangling communities all over the U.S., addiction knows no bounds.
“Socio-economic status does not prevent you from dealing with addiction,” Marcuccio said. But it is also important to know that Narcan will not cure a person’s opioid addiction, because the chemical works as an antidote to an opioid overdose, according to information on Connecticut’s Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services website. DMHAS also notes the efficacy of Narcan treatment across the nation, citing that, “As of June 2014, the CDC reported that the 644 naloxone distribution programs in existence had reversed over 26,000 overdoses.”
The implementation of Narcan law in Connecticut arrives as welcome salvation from the astronomical number of opioid related deaths and overdoses in the state. According to a press release on newbritainct.gov sent out by David Huck, New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart’s public affairs specialist, in 2012 Connecticut ranked 50th in the nation for opioid deaths, or just two per 100,000 people. Huck points out that the numbers have drastically increased. “By 2015, despite legislative actions aimed at curbing the opioid crisis, that rate grew 550 percent. Connecticut’s ranking for opioid deaths skyrocketed to twelfth.”
More narrowly speaking, New Britain saw their own uptick in opioid connected deaths with 35 in 2016, rising to a rank of fifth in the state of Connecticut.
And, the Connecticut Department of Public Health cites-in a study conducted between the months of January-April of 2018-a staggering 1,021suspected drug overdose emergency department visits in Hartford County alone.