WHO'S HARTFORD: DOTTIE MOFFITT - Lives worthy of Narcan, counseling, and consequences
Opioid news is everywhere: pills, needles, doctors, thefts, prescriptions. And it's here: toddlers, parking lots, Listen Center, parolees, police. Dottie Moffitt of Wilder has been involved in the world of addiction and counseling before many of us had ever read our first NARCAN headline. Here is her personal and professional perspective on the epidemic, and the people she counsels.
Where do you work, and what do you do?
I work at Valley Vista, an inpatient addiction treatment facility for men, women, and adolescents in Bradford, Vermont. I am a substance use dependence therapist in the men's unit. I generally have a caseload of 10 patients.
I also work at Bradford Psychiatric Associates, a clinic in White River Junction that provides medication-assisted treatment for patients seeking recovery from opioid use. I facilitate two men's outpatient groups.
Have you always
worked in this field? What drew you to it, and what training and
education qualified you for the position?
I worked as a Department of Corrections (DOC) teacher for four years at the Woodstock Correctional Facility, teaching students of all ages, but primarily responsible for students aged 16-22. While there, I was part of a larger team that developed the Community High School of Vermont, with a campus at each jail and probation office. I connected especially with students who wanted to talk about their past trauma and how it impacted their criminal and addictive behaviors, and there began my interest in counseling. We were just starting to see narcotic pills and heroin coming into the state.
I gave birth to my son in 2000, and I decided to stay at home with both of my children, running a home daycare for 14 years. I had parents that were struggling with opiate addiction. I was also the youth minister at St. Anthony's Church in White River Junction, and the teens were very open with me about their substance use and the use among their peers.
I returned to school in 2010, and earned my Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology, with a Specialty in Addiction, from Johnson State College. I received my Apprentice Addiction Professional Certification, and will soon be testing for my certification as an Alcohol and Drug Counselor.
After a Hartford High School student overdosed and passed away, I joined the Hartford Community Coalition, which brings awareness of substance use dependence to the community in the hopes of reducing stigma and encouraging understanding. I was hired by Clara Martin, which provides outpatient counseling in the Upper Valley, to run substance use dependence groups at the prison in Springfield. The state, wrongly, phased out that program, so I counseled homeless teens, addicted teens, and teens that were neglected, collaborating with area high schools.
I came to realize, after years of experience and continuing education, that I wanted to work at an inpatient facility, specifically with people who are drug/alcohol dependent. September 22, 2015, was my first day at Valley Vista, and as difficult as the job can be sometimes, there is not one day I don't feel very lucky that I get to do the job I do.
Do you have any personal experience with addicts that you would want to share?
I have family members that have struggled with addiction. I was able, at a young age, to separate the person from the addiction.
Is there an addiction you hate more than others?
I absolutely hate them all. I hate the damage I see addiction do to people's mental and physical health, as well as the emotional damage it does. The family is also damaged by addiction and need as much help as the addict does so that they can all become healthy again.
If permitted, without personal detail, can you share the breadth of addicts you’ve counseled, in terms of their age, occupations, lifestyles?
I have worked with teenagers, middle aged and with the elderly. I have worked with males and females. I have worked with people who are homeless, living on the streets. I have worked with people who live in homes, similar to you and I. I’ve had patients that are unemployed, and others are employed at box stores, in hospitals, in schools, as stay at home parents. Patients who hand us our coffee in the morning, write us a speeding ticket, and have served our country with pride and dedication.
Are you very aware of your success and failure rate in helping treat addicts? Is there a burn-out rate among counselors?
For me, personally, if a patient completes treatment that is a success. Each day spent working a program of recovery is a success but the focus can only be on the day we are in. One day, one minute, one step at a time.
My patients often call me to let me know how they are doing. When a patient has stayed clean for 90 days after leaving Valley Vista, they can come back and speak to current patients. That is always very powerful both for the speaker and the current patients. It means a lot to me as well because I get a chance to spend some time with my former patients.
I hear from my patients on a regular basis after they leave treatment, so I am aware of the successes. But they call too when they have relapsed and need help. They usually feel shame when they call. I always remind them how courageous and strong they are to call and that there is no shame in needing help.
We also lose patients to overdoses and illnesses related to their addiction. Those are heartbreaking because I know when they left treatment, they left full of hope, desperately wanting to remain clean and sober, and for whatever reason they relapsed and didn't live through their relapse to get back into treatment. Their loss leaves a void in this world and they are not forgotten.
There was a recent overdose, in the parking lot at the Listen Center. It garnered a lot of local attention. Understanding you don’t know the victim, or her private circumstances, how do you address her public circumstances? Reportedly, she was pregnant and had her young daughter with her at the time of her overdose. How do you respond to public dismay over the situation?
Shortly after this happened I had to “Narcan” a young woman in the parking lot of a grocery store. I saw her shoot up and "fall out" in her car. I knew, immediately, what happened to her. I always carry two doses of Narcan (the nasal form of naloxone for the emergency treatment of a known or suspected opioid overdose) spray with me. Whatever bag I have with me, my Narcan is in it. This woman's boyfriend came out as I gave the last dose I had. I yelled at him to call 911, because she wasn't coming around. He gave me another dose to give her and that brought her around.
I will never question whether it is right to save someone, whether it's a heart attack, a seizure, diabetic shock, or an overdose. As human beings we have the ability to help others. Our society cannot become one of disconnect. As far as the woman in the Listen parking lot I am so grateful that the staff at Listen had Narcan. My hope is that this overdose will be her proverbial bottom and she will choose to come to treatment. I know people who have been saved by Narcan on multiple occasions and eventually they decided they have had enough and choose help. I honestly don't care if it's the first time or the tenth time being given Narcan that gets them to treatment. What matters is they get there.
Where do addicts deserve a pass, and when are they to be held absolutely accountable?
I believe people with substance use dependence should be held accountable for their behaviors. Addiction is a disease that causes people to do things they wouldn't normally do if they were clean and sober, because they are sick. However, that does not mean there are not consequences for the behaviors.
I am happy when a judge recognizes the benefits of alternative sentencing, which involves coming to treatment. There is no treatment in jail and there certainly are drugs in jail. Without treatment as a part of the sentence, all we are doing is turning out better addicts.
My hope is the more addiction is spoken about, the more people will realize 12-Step Meetings, treatment facilities, and therapists’ offices are full of people like me and you, our neighbors, and our children. With the realization that addiction is a disease and needs to be treated as such, there will be less shame and stigma surrounding addiction and the need for help.
This disease can and will affect any family. It doesn't discriminate and is an equal opportunity life destroyer. Recovery is hard but there is a beauty in recovery: When a patient shaves his face, because he's no longer hiding from himself; when a patient can finally look me in the eye because he is no longer ashamed; when I hear patients laughing and having fun, with their peers, without any substances in their system. When a patient finally begins to work through underlying trauma. When a patient finally realizes they are a good person.
I am honored to do the job I do. I get to meet and work with amazing men when they come to Valley Vista for treatment. There aren't bad people there who are not deserving of help, there are very good people there, with a miserable disease, who deserve any help extended to them.