By Sue Ellen Woodcock
Twenty years ago, Kim Hanton and Judy LeMoine among others in the mental health industry noticed a gap in services available to those seeking help with recovery from drug or alcohol abuse.
Now, 20 years later the Conexions evening program, a division of North Suffolk Mental Health, is celebrating a milestone in the recovery community. The Conexions treatment model pioneered treatment for people, showing that people could get treatment in their community instead of in a hospital or hospital-like setting.
Judy LeMoine, chief operating officer, of North Suffolk Mental Health, said there were very limited services at that time because intensive outpatient recovery services needed to be attached to a hospital in order for an outside agency to receive a contract.
Kim Hanton, director of addiction services, said they had approached the Department of Public Health but were denied.
There were individuals getting referred to the psychiatric day treatment program but there were also some who were having a hard time staying sober.
“It was very black and white. You either had to abstain to get treatment or be actively using drugs. We saw a need to engage the entire population that wasn’t being treated,” Hanton said. “We were blessed to be part of a pioneering program.”
Mental health and substance use disorders were two separate entities. Now the two areas have merged. Before the 1990s there was a struggle to decide whether to treat the addiction or the mental health, said Hanton.
The roots of Conexions came from North Suffolk Mental Health Association’s intensive outpatient substance use program. Conexions combined group therapy and pharmacology to introduce and support individuals to a recovery lifestyle. “It was noticed that those in the day program were also in need of a night program,” LeMoine said. She spoke to her supervisor and told him they needed something more. Hanton at the same believed they all had to be working together. There were clients with a dual-diagnosis of mental health and substance use disorder.
LeMoine and Hanton got together, and have been working together for about 30 years. At that time, Hanton was working with a group of the drug/alcohol population. Together they brought the model of treating substance abuse and mental health together in the mid-1990s. Around the same time drug courts started to appear due to the work of Judge Robert Zimian, the father of drug courts in Massachusetts. Conexions evening program was born, riding on the success of the Conexions day program that was started in 1974, which is community based and longer term therapeutic care. It has been running since the 1960s and flourished with deinstitutionalization.
“Zimian touted that this treatment was such an important part of drug court,” Hanton said.
With this model Hanton and LeMoine have connected with the community and there are lasting impacts. Hanton recalls one man who’s been sober for 15 years.
“There are some I can say I actually love,” Hanton said. “They’re a part of my life and I know they have a better life because of what we were able to do.”
Conexions will celebrate its 20th anniversary of Conexions on Thursday, June 16 from 6-9 pm at Waterfront Way in East Boston. For tickets and directions go online at www.northsuffolk.org For questions call 617-912-7932.