WATERBURY, Conn. (WTNH) — News 8 was along for the ride when Waterbury deployed some of its newest weapons in the fight against the opioid crisis.
Cameron Breen and Rushnee Vereen are two people who once experienced the pain of addiction. Now, they’re hired to use their personal experiences to help gain the trust of opioid victims, who first responders encounter on an overdose call.
It’s Breen’s and Vereen’s jobs to establish a positive relationship with them and encourage them to go into a treatment program.
They can convey a true sense of knowing what the victim may be going through and speaking to them in a language they can understand. Not only that, they follow-up and maintain contact with the victim to help keep them on the right path.
“A minimum of five times following that overdose at 24, 48, 72 hours, two weeks and up to 30 days,” said Jennifer Dewitt, Prevention Coordinator at the Waterbury Department of Public Health.
“We’re not just giving them a pamphlet and saying good luck,” Breen said.
The team took News 8 to a burned-out house with junk in the yard. They said it was a known hangout for drug activity.
Breen knows because several years ago, he used there.
“I was an IV [intravenous] heroin user in Waterbury for years,” he said. “There was a lot of drug sales and drug activity going on over here.”
He told News 8 it was tough being back there. But, he felt proud that he overcame his addiction and is now back there trying to get others to do the same.
“It’s nice to be on the other end trying to help people get out of the misery and despair that drug addiction can cause,” he said.
Vereen experienced a different route to her past addiction.
“I fell down some steps,” she said. “I lost partial use of my spine. In 2011, I was prescribed Percoset by a doctor and later became addicted to them.”
The pair agreed that knowing Waterbury has a problem with addiction and that they are now in a position to do something about it is rewarding.
“Last year, Waterbury experienced 109 fatal overdoses just to people here in the city, and well over 400 overdose reversals,” Dewitt said. “Four hundred people overdosing in one year is a catastrophe.”
Breen and Vereen hope to prevent other catastrophes.
“It’s another opportunity to help save another life,” Vereen said.
“We’ve gotten multiple people into treatment so far, and we continue to hope to do the same every day we come into work,” Breen said.