Westport’s Quiet Role: Addiction Recovery Hub

It was a simple dental procedure..

Back in 2005, Al Samaras was a healthcare sales executive. He owned a large home in Madison, where he and his wife were raising 2 kids.

He loved the opiates that lessened the post-operative pain. Within 8 months, Samaras lost his career. His wife. And his kids.

It took a while to recover. But while still living in a sober house in North Haven, he was asked to manage it.

“I was in my late 30s. I had life skills to fall back on,” Samaras says.

Al Samaras

Yet the model he used for recovery almost never worked for 18-22-year-olds. Most of them start abusing substances — drugs or alcohol — around age 13. Their emotional development stalls.

The financial model most recovery centers use does not support the level of staffing and services — with constant support and oversight — young men need to succeed.

So Samaras helped develop a 2-pronged system aimed at young male addicts.

Very quietly, both are succeeding.

And both are right here in Westport.

With a felony cocaine conviction, Samaras could not go back to his old life. Gradually — as he remarried his wife, put his family back together and built a new house — he developed an extended care sober-living model.

He knew Westport has a strong recovery community. Though he understood possible resistance to establishing a sober house here — not in my backyard! — he searched for property.

The 2nd homeowner he contacted — “We want to rent your house, and put young addicts there” — was willing to talk. “That’s all I ask,” Samaras says.

The 1st “Westport House” opened in 2014, on Fragrant Pines Court (opposite Coffee An’). A 2nd house followed on the same street. A 3rd is around the corner, on Cross Highway.

One of the Westport Houses, not far from downtown.

The homes are large, with plenty of privacy. Several residents live in each, 1 to 2 per room, plus support staff. There are 35 beds in all.

They are life-changing places.

“These are not just ‘sober houses,'” Samaras explains. “They are programs for young men in their teens and 20s who lack life and coping skills. They come in overwhelmed and anxious. They can’t navigate the world without drugs in their system.”

Westport House’s 2-phase system helps reintegrate them into society.

Phase I lasts about 90 days (with various goal-oriented levels for residents to attain). The homes are staffed 24/7, with 3 case management managers, and program aides. There are 17 employees in all.

Though half of the young men come from the tri-state area, nearly every state has been represented.

The interior of the Cross Highway house.

Residents take classes at Fairfield and Sacred Heart Universities, and Norwalk Community College.

They also work. Jim Gabal places each young man at a site. Some volunteer at the Gillespie Center. Others are at non-profits; Christ and Holy Trinity Church; businesses like Sperry Top-Sider and Vineyard Vines, and in law firms.

Given the chance, they can handle it. Some residents attend schools like Cornell and Vanderbilt. One recent “grad” is headed to Yale.

In Phase II, the staff is on site from 9 a.m. to midnight.

“We’re super-fortunate that Westport has been so great to us,” Samaras says. “From the zoning department to neighbors, we’ve been welcomed warmly.”

The program is very conscious that they’re in a residential neighborhood. Cars are not parked on the street. “Hanging out” is prohibited.

“We want to be enmeshed in the community,” Samaras says. “We like manning booths at civic events, and participating in life here however we can.”

Westport House is not cheap. Costs starts at $12,000 a month in Phase I. Insurance may cover some or all of the expense.

The 2nd component of Samaras’ work is Clearpoint Recovery Center. Dual-licensed to treat substance abuse and psychiatric disorders, and located nearby on Kings Highway North — in the former Internal Medicine Associates suite — this is where Westport House residents meet 3-4 hours a day, 3-4 days a week for intensive outpatient groups.

“In recovery, environments matter,” Samaras says. “That’s why we chose large, professionally decorated homes. It’s the same with Clearpoint.”

Treatment centers are typically sterile, he notes. Clearpoint features reclaimed barn lumber, and comfortable furniture.

A Clearpoint meeting room.

Clearpoint’s 20 employees include experienced therapists, and — in administrative roles — several program graduates. “They come in here, and can’t look anyone in the eye. Now they work here,” Samaras says proudly.

But Clearpoint has another component. While it’s used mornings for Westport House residents, the rest of the time it offers services for the rest of Fairfield County.

For example, there are female-only groups. “Women in recovery have different issues than men — there’s often trauma and psychological disorders,” Samaras explains.

One women’s group meets 3 times a week, for 3 hours per session.

There are professionals groups, for those struggling with alcohol. (In most AA groups, Samaras notes, alcoholics of all ages and backgrounds mix together. Westport House residents may also be involved in AA.)

There are also young adult groups, and one centered on medication management.

A small Clearpoint meeting.

“I love Westport for many reasons — including its recovery community,” Samaras says.

“There are a lot of people here recovering from drugs and alcohol. They are amazing human beings. And they’ve been very supportive of us.”

Before today, you may not have heard of Westport House, or Clearpoint.

That’s okay. For hundreds of people who need them, they’re there for them.

And how wonderful it is that “there” means “right here.”

9 responses to “Westport’s Quiet Role: Addiction Recovery Hub

  1. Janette Kinnally

    Congratulations on having a successful program. We need more of these kind of two phase programs. Many programs are not working around the country. Addiction to opiates and overdoses have increased every year for the last three years. One of the biggest issues for many is the lack of finances to be able to afford programs like this one. Insurance companies should cover and pay for this, just like other illnesses. But most do not, or are very limited in coverage.
    Either way, it is amazing how Al was able to turn his life around and now can help others with this devastating illness. And it is wonderful that people can healthy again in a beautiful place like Westport.

  2. Nancy Vener

    How is this funded?..

  3. As noted in the story: “Westport House is not cheap. Costs starts at $12,000 a month in Phase I. Insurance may cover some or all of the expense.” Insurance may cover Clearpoint costs too; if not, it’s up to the client to pay.

  4. This is good news. First I’ve heard of Clearpoint. They need to get word out to Norwalk Hospital who can refer them. Most people don’t know where to go after hospital stay.

  5. Never heard of this resource in our community before. It is a thouthful and intelligent approach to address young men and their specific issues. Good to know that there is some effective movement forward on the addiction problems we face in our country. Mr. Samaras, you made leomonade!

  6. Bill Boyd (Staples 1966)

    Dan, thank you for bringing this to our attention!

  7. Donald Sigovich

    And the police are warning neighborhood residents to be sure to lock up because of increased criminal activity – I look forward to your follow up post and/or assurances from Al Samaras about his 24/7 staffing.

  8. Albert Samaras

    Donald – there are a couple factors that make it unlikely Westport House residents will contribute to increased criminal activity, 1) Our population consists primarily of young men 18-24 (who have completed an inpatient treatment program) with very supportive families. They tend to have some college under their belts and most are motivated to get back on an academic path. And while a significant percentage will have arrest records (a common consequence of substance abuse), they are not the stereotypical addict/criminals; and 2) The Phase I home on Fragrant Pines is staffed 24/7. Overnight staff are awake and perform regular bed checks. They also visit the Phase II homes at least twice between midnight and 6am. Every check is documented/time stamped in an iPad-based electronic medical record system. We also have a video security system in the Phase I home. It’s accessible to staff via any web browser. If you’re interested, I’d be happy to meet with you and show you around, meet staff/residents, see the properties, etc. Email me or call my cell at your convenience.

    Respectfully,
    Albert Samaras
    203-293-3348 (cell)

  9. Congratulations once again Dan for your very informative article, it is wonderful to hear of the good work going on in our town.