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September 24, 2017 Greater Hartford Health

Innovative in-home drug treatment program saves lives, offers hope

Matt Eacott, who was once addicted to drugs, is now helping to expand Aware Recovery Care's in-home treatment program, which aided his own recovery.
Photo & cover \\ Bill Morgan Matt Eacott, who was once addicted to drugs, is now helping to expand Aware Recovery Care's in-home addiction treatment program.
HBJ PHOTOs \\ Bill morgan Matt Eacott with his support dog Keely.
HBJ PHOTO | Bill Morgan Aware Recovery Care founder and CEO Stephen Randazzo (right), with a former patient in 2017.

Matt Eacott's fall from Avon prep school student athlete to opioid misuser and an eventual heroin addiction may have had a sad ending, if he hadn't found a unique in-home treatment program.

Eacott said he'd been to 14 residential treatment centers over a 10-year period, traveling as far as Israel to seek help, but he'd always eventually relapse.

It's not that inpatient treatment programs have no value, he said, but when he got home he fell back into his old bad habits.

Eacott, now 36, said he broke his potential death spiral after he got enrolled in an addiction treatment program called Aware Recovery Care, which treats clients in their homes.

The key was learning to function without drugs in his regular environment, where he had so often slipped up, he said.

“I learned how to develop my own supports, the daily habits and skills necessary for me to have my own individual treatment plan,” Eacott said. “Obviously, I was monitored, drug tested regularly.”

Eacott's not just a former customer of Aware, based in North Haven. Today, he also works there as a partner and vice president.

The program, which was founded in 2011 by Stephen Randazzo, bucks treatment norms in both environment and length.

A team of providers — including an addiction psychiatrist, therapists, nurses and recovery advisers who are themselves in long-term recovery — works with patients in their homes, on their schedule, over a full year's time.

It starts with intensive daily meetings and then slowly tapers off as clients build the confidence and support systems they need to function on their own, said Eacott.

He estimates about 70 to 80 percent of Aware's clients ages 18 to 40 are opioid misusers, like he once was.

Aware says results have been so positive versus traditional treatment programs that Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Connecticut in Oct. 2015 began covering the $38,000 cost of the program for plan members (who must pay deductible and co-pay). That's a lot of money for most people, but that sum would only pay for about six weeks of most inpatient treatment programs, Eacott said.

Anthem, which remains the only health insurer covering the program, recently encouraged Aware to expand into New Hampshire. The company is also looking at other areas to grow.

“It's been a nice synchrony because our coverage has allowed them to grow and allowed them to sort of expand and prosper and it works for both of us,” said Dr. Steven Korn, behavioral health medical director for Anthem's Northeast region.

Based on data so far, “what we have is better [results] than anything we've seen anywhere else,” Korn said.

“This was a one-year program and people with substance use disorders have chronic diseases, that don't go away in 30 days or 60 days,” he said. “Part of what has frustrated us with traditional providers is the lack of continuity of care.”

View HBJ's "Opioids in the Workplace" series here.

Aware — citing 2017 Anthem data — says it produces recovery rates six times higher than the national average.

While success rates from treatment programs across the country can be difficult to discern, Korn said Aware's “engagement rate” — patients who completed the yearlong program — was in the low 60 percent range early on, which he described as “phenomenal.” More recent Anthem data show engagement rates between 65 and 70 percent, he said.

Meantime, Aware Recovery clients who complete the program avoid negative substances 92 percent of the time throughout the year. If they relapse, it's for days rather than weeks and months.

From opioids to heroin

When Eacott was a day student and lacrosse player at Loomis Chaffee School in Windsor in the late-'90s, he began partying too much on weekends, typically drinking and smoking marijuana. That devolved into skipping school to smoke pot and accumulating so many unexcused absences that he was expelled his junior year.

He went on to graduate from Avon High School in 1999, but was still partying. He recalls developing a “delinquent bad boy identity” as someone who wanted to procure marijuana for friends and would approach strangers at concerts to ask for drugs.

He went to Clark University in Worcester, Mass., played lacrosse and continued partying.

After his sophomore year, when his grades slipped too low to stay on the team, he transferred to Tufts University outside Boston. It wasn't far enough. He met up with old friends in the area and tried Vicodin. Then he tried Percocet, then OxyContin.

“I started doing those more and more and then, of course, I had to find ways to support my habit,” he said. So he began selling drugs.

Good with computers, Eacott faked school documents, misleading his parents that he was still going to school, instead using their tuition money to buy drugs for himself and friends. He even produced a fake diploma and transcripts. In 2010, he was arrested for passing a fake prescription at a Boston pharmacy.

“That was my first significant drug offense,” Eacott said.

A judge transferred his case to Hartford and he was ordered to an outpatient program, but couldn't shake his drug use. OxyContin was Eacott's limit at the time, but as money got tight he transitioned to heroin, which was cheaper, accessible and lasted longer.

He recalls first snorting heroin at age 23 or 24. He would start with four or five bags a day, each bag roughly 0.10 grams, but as his tolerance built, he needed more and more.

He bought drugs in Hartford, living a “double if not triple life,” for himself and others, eventually getting arrested late one night in the city while trying to purchase drugs. Police called his parents after midnight to retrieve his car and dog, which had been with him.

“So I got to see the face of my mother just absolutely devastated as I was being transported in the back of a Hartford police car off to Jennings Road — and obviously that look has been ingrained in my head ever since,” he said.

He detoxed in jail and was ordered treatment and probation.

“Basically that pattern of my going away to treatment and doing extremely well and then coming back home and relapsing … happened over and over and over again from I would say 23 to about 30, 31,” he said of being arrested, violating probation and relapsing multiple times.

That's why when he first heard about getting in-home treatment it felt right, Eacott said.

New purpose in life

Eacott said he learned about the program shortly after spending seven months in prison. Aware Recovery Care's approach was being tested among five people. He was client No. 3. Randazzo, the program's founder, was on his care team.

He completed the program in 2011 and Randazzo offered him the option to become a certified recovery adviser and work for Aware. He worked his way up in the company until Randazzo offered him the opportunity to invest in 2013.

The company has grown from about 40 to 50 clients and 25 employees before Anthem's coverage to more than 400 clients and 110 workers between Connecticut and New Hampshire, Eacott said.

Eacott said the program saved his life and he's now married. He said he feels a purpose in life and works at a job he loves.

“It's been absolutely amazing to help and watch this company grow from literally an idea going against the grain of the industry to watching it … massively grow and have support and have success,” Eacott said.

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