NEW MILFORD — A “game changer” is the way town resident Tony Morrissey describes the impact his foundation can now make to overcome substance use disorder and opioid addiction.
Brian Cody’s Brothers & Sisters Foundation, LLC, which was created in 2019 by Tony and his wife Tracey Morrissey after their son Brian Cody Waldron died of an overdose at the age of 20, just became an official 501(c)(3) non-profit charitable organization.
Tony Morrissey said the new designation “really opens the door to many different areas — both financially and volunteering wise.”
“This has been a long effort,” said Morrissey, adding it took exactly one year to achieve. “We had to work with the IRS to prove to them that we are a legitimate organization by showing them what we are doing and how we are doing it.”
He said being a charitable organization “legitimizes that we’ve been vetted and proven to be doing good deeds within the community.”
Initially, Morrissey said the effort to create the foundation began with legislative proposals he and his wife hoped to see passed to bring change to the opioid epidemic.
“There was a stack of them,” he said.
They include: funding of the Community Angel (Navigator) position across the state, tighter tracking of opioids and synthetic drugs, and others.
The Morrisseys brought those ideas to the attention of New Milford Mayor Pete Bass and State Rep. Bill Buckbee, R-New Milford, New Milford Police Chief Spencer Cerruto and New Milford’s Social Services department.
They also created a Facebook group, which was originally for friends and family to stay connected during their grieving period over their son.
Within a very short period of time, the page, “exploded” to thousands of members, Morrissey said.
It has continued to grow.
“It’s been pretty miraculous. Families that are just like us have joined our cause and started to chip in on some of the initiatives that we’ve put together,” Morrissey said.
Other ways the Morrisseys realized they could help is by providing direct assistance to struggling families. They began connecting people to the services they needed.
“We’ve literally gone into crisis situations, picked folks up, worked with them on providing resources and literally brought them to detox centers and inpatient care facilities — and we’ve done this by the hundreds at this point,” he said.
Additionally, the foundation donated food and clothing to sober houses.
Most recently, last August, the foundation held the New Milford Recovery Festival and 5K run, which was geared toward bringing further awareness and recovery solutions to the cause.
Buckbee said the Morrisseys have been “a really important part of the team” across the state to spread awareness and “get the ball rolling.”
As an example of a town wide effort to fight addiction, Buckbee pointed to Justin Cullmer, New Milford’s community care coordinator.
Cullmer’s job title should be “angel,” said Buckbee. “He’s boots on the ground.”
He added Cullmer made the process of getting help very personal.
“Instead of handing someone a phone number, he put his hand out,” Buckbee said. Cullmer works one on one with residents to get them the help they need.
And he doesn’t end his relationship after one meeting, Buckbee added.
“He stays in touch with the individuals and works with them to find them a warm bed to sleep in, as well as getting them the proper addiction services they might need,” Buckbee said. “He’s an ear for them too. He’s able to have those conversations and to help those people get back on the right track.”
Despite all the measures the Morrissey’s foundation and others like it have taken, substance use disorder and opioid addiction continue to plague the state and nation. In Connecticut, official counts from the state health department marked 1,247 confirmed drug overdose deaths in 2021. However, that number has decreased from 1,369 deaths the prior year.
Additionally, by county, there was a slight decrease in drug overdose death rates in Litchfield from to 40.5 in 2019 to 31.1 between January to June 2021, according to state data.
“Our area is the only one in Connecticut that is seeing year over year decreases in deaths, which I believe is due to the critical collaborations going on here in the greater New Milford area,” Morrissey said.
He said the motto of the foundation is to “keep going.”
“We will be doubling down on our efforts to provide recovery resources. If folks think that we have won the war, they are sadly mistaken,” Morrissey said. “That’s why this designation is so important. Maybe we can open a door that we couldn’t open before.”
As a nonprofit, charitable organization, the foundation can now apply for grants and give scholarships to those trying to get into sober housing or detox centers.
He said the foundation’s goal this year is to raise and fund $50,000 worth of support services.
Morrissey said those who want to help with the effort can do so in a variety of ways, including making a monetary donation toward a scholarship or detox center, joining Facebook groups and listening to podcasts to learn more, participate in fundraising efforts to connect people with resources they need and initiate conversations.
“The more attention given to the opioid epidemic and substance use disorder, the more we are going to be willing to figure out new ways of solving this problem,” said Morrissey, who, along with his wife, have adopted seven children.
“I want to show my family that we’re not just going to curl up in a corner and cry for the rest of our lives,” he said. “We’re going to stand up and we’re going to show people that there’s a different way to handle this problem. It’s to ensure my son’s legacy always lives on.”