UConn Health combats opioid crisis with local program  


UConn Health, along with the local nonprofit Community Mental Health Affiliates (CMHA), has launched a program, IMPACT, to help reduce opioid use in vulnerable and homeless populations in New Britain and Bristol.  

“It’s a very important project and I’m glad to be part of it,” Dr. Karen Steinberg, an associate professor of psychiatry involved with the initiative, wrote in an email. “It takes a holistic view of the participants who are struggling with opiate use disorders.”  

Unlike other programs combating the opioid crisis, the IMPACT initiative brings treatment to people staying at shelters rather than keeping the treatment at clinics which people would need to visit.  

“What’s innovative about [the program] is that we’re not requiring people to come to an agency to get treatment,” Janice Vendetti, a health services researcher at UConn Health’s public health department said in an interview. “In most cases, you have two or three agencies that are in your vicinity, but you still have to…get there.”  

Vendetti said that since many individuals making up the homeless population cannot travel to mental health agencies, they oftentimes are unable to get the treatment that they require.  

“A lot of people with substance use disorders have difficulty with just plain transportation,” Vendetti added. “So, we’re bringing everything they need [to the shelters].”  

Another unique aspect of IMPACT is that it uses a harm reduction strategy, which means the people involved are guaranteed treatment, regardless of whether or not they are unable to quit using opioids.  

“A harm reduction approach says, if you don’t want to quit right now, or if you’re not ready to quit right now, we don’t want to not help you,” Vendetti said. “The doors are always open [and] there’s no wrong way to get treatment. Even if you…start using again, we don’t consider that a fault.”  

Vendetti said several other programs require that people exit the program if they start using opioids again.  

“What happens is you lose a lot of people that way, because they can’t maintain it,” Vendetti said of that approach. “We don’t ever want to lose people completely. We’re always here to help.”  

The IMPACT program launched last year after CMHA received a $2.6 million grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), a federal agency. The grant covers five years of the program for its work in reducing opioid overdose deaths.  

“The initial application [of the grant] was to reduce opioid overdose deaths,” Vendetti said. “We decided to focus on [treating the homeless] because there is a need for substance misuse treatment in a homeless population, and it’s a very difficult population to reach.”  

Along with program evaluators Vendetti and Steinberg, IMPACT consists of two clinicians, two case managers and a peer recovery support specialist to provide medication-assisted treatment.  

IMPACT also works to provide individuals with opportunities for housing, food and other basic needs, according to Steinberg.  

“The program offers medication-assisted treatment and links [participants] with housing and other community resources,” Steinberg said. “By helping them with important basic needs such as shelter, food and safety, this can facilitate their working on higher order needs and addressing their substance use.”  


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