Two Connecticut men who made a film tracking a recovery high school in Houston over the course of two years said Connecticut needs to jump on board if it’s serious about battling drug addiction.
Across the country, there are 36 recovery high schools, ranging in size from 30 to 100 students. The nearest recovery high schools are in Massachusetts, which has five.
But in Connecticut, attempts to fund recovery high schools haven’t made it through the Education Committee in the last two legislative sessions.
The reason, according to recovery school advocate state Rep. Mary Mushinsky, D-Wallingford, “is it’s been tough to get support for the concept during tough budget times.”
But Generation Found co-director Jeff Reilly, a Guilford native who has an office on the Branford Green, isn’t buying that response.
“Aren’t there always budget problems?” Reilly said Tuesday, during an interview in his office. “You’ve got to look at the cost of not addressing the issue in the long term — the loss of lives, families, jobs. That is much more costly.”
Generation Found premiered in Danbury on July 13. It will be shown in Branford Aug. 1 at the Regal Cinemas.
To see a trailer for the film, go to www.generationfoundfilm.com
Reilly, a two-time Emmy award winning editor/filmmaker, co-directed, wrote, produced, and edited the film with Newtown High School graduate Greg Williams, a recovery advocate and filmmaker who last year launched the nation’s first big-budget addiction organization with a Westport businessman whose son died of a drug overdose.
The film makes the case that recovery high schools — in conjunction with support programs for teens on nights and weekends — can make a difference when other treatment attempts have failed.
The film is described on its website as “a powerful story about one community coming together to ignite a youth addiction recovery revolution in their hometown.
“Devastated by an epidemic of addiction, Houston faced the reality of burying and locking up its young people at an alarming rate. And so in one of the largest cities in America, visionary counselors, law school dropouts, aspiring rock musicians, retired football players, oil industry executives, and church leaders came together to build the world’s largest peer-driven youth and family recovery community.”
Connecticut lawmakers have been responding to an alarming jump in heroin and opioid-related overdoses by providing first responders with an overdose-reversing drug called naloxone, and by launching education campaigns.
Reilly’s co-director, Williams, said the movie was sold out at its Danbury showing.
Like Reilly, Williams said money is not the reason to stop the recovery school initiative.
“I’ve been in recovery for 15 years,’’ Williams said. “Do you know that my recovery as a young person is a $2 million cost-savings to the state of Connecticut? That’s the long-term cost of incarceration, emergency room visits, and lost productivity when a high school student leaves school because of addiction.”
Williams added that he finds it ridiculous that Connecticut is “surrounded by states that are opening recovery schools and we can’t seem to get it done here.”
When Reilly is asked whether the heroin and opioid crisis in Connecticut surprises him, he doesn’t hesitate to answer.
“Nope, not at all. It is happening everywhere in the country. Nobody is immune to it,” Reilly said.
In January, Mushinsky introduced a bill directing the Connecticut Department of Education to study recovery high schools in other states and determine their desirability here. The bill did not get out of the Education Committee.
Mushinsky also pushed the recovery school initiative the year before, in 2015, but it also died in committee.
“I’m going to keep trying to move this initiative forward,” Mushinsky said. “We’ve lost 53 young people in our small little town of Wallingford in a three-year period due to addiction. Recovery schools have worked well for those who are in need of most help in other parts of the country — particularly in Massachusetts.”
Rep. Sean Scanlon, D-Guilford, spent much of the recently completed legislative legislation pushing for tougher laws to combat the opioid epidemic in the state.
Scanlon said he is “really excited that a movie made by two filmmakers with Connecticut roots will be showing in Branford,” and he is hoping the movie will help take the discussion of opening recovery schools in Connecticut “to the next level.”
He added that even though attempts to fund recovery schools have failed in the legislature the last two years, he believes there may be momentum building for an initiative to succeed in the upcoming session.
Scanlon said he plans to join with Mushinsky in a renewed effort to have studies done on whether recovery schools in Connecticut are an “idea that we need to make happen.”
“My understanding,” added Scanlon, “is other states that have these schools have had very positive results, very positive outcomes.”
He added that “people are getting that we have to act on this crisis. The reality is, is that more people are being killed by addiction now than in car accidents.”