New office aims to aid substance abusers in city

Like any city, New Haven has its problems. A recent survey conducted by the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services found that between 7,000 and 11,000 people in New Haven alone have substance abuse problems.

To help remedy this problem, Mayor John DeStefano Jr. recently announced the formation of the New Haven Office of Substance Abuse Policy and Prevention. The office will increase treatment options and preventative measures for substance abusers in the city. An integrated plan of action within the city’s government will also be included.

The office will attempt to promote positive attitudes about addiction and recovery, as well as leadership training to reduce alcohol abuse and underage drinking.

“This was a transition issue from our ‘Fighting Back’ initiative that has been funded for several years by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation,” DeStefano said.

Fighting Back, a similar program which began in 1993, was created to determine whether collaborating community elements could create a strategy to reduce substance abuse. The new office is a continuation of that mission.

“[The Office of Substance Abuse Policy and Prevention] is also a step forward toward maintaining the capacity we’ve developed with the Fighting Back initiative that will be phased out,” DeStefano said.

Esther Armmand, the office’s director, said this new initiative recognizes the importance of the city’s past commitments and represents a desire to continue them.

“The city’s never had a great focus on substance abuse before,” said Richard Spears, a public educator at the office. “Our goal is to try to make treatment more accessible.”

Currently, it takes up to seven days for a patient to receive treatment. It is hoped that the new program will be able to cut that time down to 48 hours.

Spears added that there will be an emphasis placed on after-care. He said the office hopes to provide “quality access in a timely manner” and then help patients find programs for long-term treatment.

Armmand said that in New Haven, the substance abuse problem includes a significant number of driving while intoxicated violations and underage drinking incidents.

“The number of people in treatment is going up, and we know that there are other people who haven’t sought treatment,” Armmand said.

Despite these problems, Armmand said she looks forward to the challenge of directing the office. She feels the initiative will help change the way residents will work together to reduce substance abuse.

While the office’s impact will only be seen in time, the mayor said he expects it improve upon past efforts.

“I think it’s an extension of the valuable efforts we’ve seen from Fighting Back,” DeStefano said. “One of the valuable efforts is a more coordinated and valuable approach to substance abuse issues within the city.”

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