Superintendent of Shelton schools Dr. Chris Clouet said there is no time to place blame, the city’s collaborative response to the nationwide opioid epidemic requires a series of steps towards combating the issue.
“Tonight needs to be about honesty, no shame no blame, just facing a crisis that is killing people and ruining lives. This sounds like odd thing for me to say, but please feel uncomfortable. This is a tragic situation that we all need to face in order to push it back and to protect our children,” said Dr. Clouet.
Shelton Police teamed with the Board of Education, Shelton PTO, Greater Valley Substance Abuse Council (VSAC), and Youth Services Bureau for an informational meeting Monday, May 9, in the Shelton Intermediate School auditorium to help educate parents on ways to prevent opioid abuse.
Dr. Clouet urged the crowd of nearly 100 people to refrain from placing blame on one specific group for the damage already done by opioid abuse.
Officer Dave Eldridge and Dr. Clouet labeled the issue a “community crisis.”
Eldridge emphasized the importance of implementing the “three-pronged approach”.
“We have never seen such a serious crisis that affects everyone, not just our own children but our friend’s children and family members,” said Eldridge. “We have no choice but to address it There’s only one way to address it and it’s not by just locking people up, that’s not all of what our job is about. We need to fix the problem through health resources, education, and law enforcement.”
Along with representatives from the education system, law enforcement, and health resources being present, students from Shelton schools shared their perception of the epidemic.
In 2012, there were 357 accidental drug intoxication deaths in Connecticut. In 2015, that number has risen to 724 accidental drug intoxication deaths in Connecticut. Gabriella Perry, a fifth grader at Perry Hill School said at that rate, by the time she’s a freshman in high school in 2019 there will be approximately 1,019 drug intoxication deaths.
“If using drugs is crazy, then not doing anything to stop this drug epidemic makes us irresponsible,” said Perry.
Isabella DiPalma, another fifth grader at Perry Hill School said students should be made aware of the epidemic when they’re in elementary school.
Valley Substance Abuse Council Director Pam Mautte said opioid use affects children differently than adults due to their brain development and multiple other factors.
Heroin use can result in short-term side effects such as vomiting, constipation, and severe-like symptoms, according to Mautte. She also said one dose of heroin rewires the brain forever.
Officer Eldridge said families should constantly be on the lookout for telltale signs of drug use or changes in behavior. He said a change in friends, bad hygiene, and money or valuables missing in the home can all be “red flags.”
“They’ve got to get the money from somewhere, whether it’s robbing someone, breaking into a car, or stealing from family. The average habit for a heroin addict can cost them anywhere from $100-300 a day. It gets expensive and at some point they need the drug just so they won’t feel ‘dopesick.’,” said Eldridge.
Officer Eldridge said he’s noticed that even when an addict overcome the physical symptoms of addiction, they often relapse due to the inability to battle the psychological effects of the built-up dependency.
Mautte said a part of opioid epidemic derives from the country’s normative use of prescription pills.
“In America, we consume 90% percent of opioid based medications in the world. We have enough to fill a prescription for every citizen in the United States,” said Mautte. “This is very different in other countries. It’s our normative use that has made this normative use for students believe that since it is not illegal it is not going to harm me.”
Dr. Steven Rovinelli, an anesthesiologist at Griffin hospital, said he prescribes pills that are abused regularly and referred to them as a “double-edged sword.”
Fentanyl is a popular drug used for anesthesia. Dr. Rovinelli said it also comes in a patch form because it can have less side-effects but it can be deadly if used incorrectly.
“We’re finding that people are getting into this medication and taking it out of the patches to either deliver it thru an IV or are ingesting it. The rate of consumption is then off the roof. When you use the patch it will last about three days in a fairly slow or predictable offset. Once it’s taken off the patch that three day dose is taken in all at once and is when we see more overdoses,” said Dr. Rovinelli.
Mautte said the two most common reasons for illegal use of an opioid is to create or mask a feeling. She added that it is important for parents to maintain the role of a parent and not fall into trying to be your child’s friend.
“Debunk common myths,” said Mautte. “Explain that it’s not ok to use them even once and awhile. Let them know plenty of people die from first time use. If you’re a parent be mindful of how you use your medications in front of your kids and in general. Don’t be passing them to friends or sharing.”
Mautte advised parents to constantly lock up medications and monitor the number of remaining pills after each dose to assure that none are missing.
Dr. Clouet said parents should continue to do their own research on ways to prevent opioid abuse. He added that the battle against opioids will only be won through a joined effort and continuous flow of knowledge being spread in communities.
“We will be remembered for how we organized and worked together to beat this scourge of drug abuse and addiction,” said Clouet.