Opioid addiction forum addresses ongoing heroin epidemic

People from across the state packed a Shelton auditorium to discuss the ongoing problem with opioid abuse, which has been receiving more attention as of late because of its increasing presence in smaller towns and multiple overdoses resulting in death.

The recent overdoses and arrests in Derby prompted the forum between a panel made up of local politicians, first responders, social service representatives and concerned residents asking questions.

The panel responded to residents’ questions about the use and distribution of narcan, the  implementation of educational drug courses in schools, and the conditions of state help facilities for those battling addiction.

Valerie Colao, retired Office Manager at Shelton Dental Group and mother of two said her two sons ages have suffered from addiction. She said she believes prevention will only come through the form of education.

“I believe that each school, elementary, middle and high should have drug prevention education in the curriculum. Drugs have been in Shelton and all surrounding areas for the past 20 yrs or more and we have denied the problem. We have not put our children first and now the community is finally recognizing that we have a huge problem, multi faceted as it is,” said Colao.

Mayor Mark Lauretti said although the city will need to work together and he is for an increase in more drug education, he believes a lot of the responsibility falls on the parents to educate their children.

“There’s been a lot of discussion and commentary about education in the schools and I can tell you that the schools do take on a lot of these issues as we sit here today and have for a number of years,” said Lauretti. “I sit and wonder how much you expect the schools to do in terms of being able to educate kids in terms of societal issues. Once they walk out of the doors of the school there has to be some reinforcement from their parents.”

Pam Mautte, the executive director of the Valley Substance Abuse Action Council, said parents/authoritative figure’s presence in a child’s life can play a major part in a child using drugs.

According to the Center for Disease Control’s website 70% of heroin addicts began their addiction with prescription opioid drugs. The list of prescription drugs that people commonly get addicted to are painkillers such as Vicodin, Percocet, Oxycontin. People who suffer from chronic pain also make up a percentage of those addicted to opiates.

Miriam E. Delphin-Rittmon, Ph.D., Commissioner of explained the disease doesn’t target one type of person nor does it only affect the person with the dependency on the drugs.

“We’re all touched by this one way or another, whether it’s a family member, friend, neighbor, sibling, parent,” said Delphin-Rittmon.

Kevin Giarullo, EMS service, said the number of heroin patients are increasing by 25% each year.

With the number of overdoses rising, the need for medication for treatment is at an all time high.

According to State Rep. Ben McGorty, there are currently several bills being reviewed that would make Narcan legal to sell over the counter.

Giarullo added that the Narcan is extremely effective and reverses the symptoms of someone using opioids, but is also getting more expensive. The price of Narcan used to be $4-8 but now is $40-60 a treatment.

Joe Burnett, EMS Coordinator at Griffin Hospital, said the easy access to Narcan could potentially enable addicts to use without fearing dying of an overdose.

Giarullo said “Some see it as an opportunity to use again, but it’s also another opportunity to seek care again.”

State Rep. Jason Perillo said he recalls when opioid abuse wasn’t recognized as a problem, now it’s considered to be one of the largest issues in New England.

Perillo said the forum exceeded his expectations, but he is also well aware of the amount of work that is left to do.

“This has been a problem for many years that has finally gained the public’s attention. One overwhelming theme we heard was that there really is a problem with access to treatment. The state and the healthcare community need to take active steps to make care more available to those who need it,” said Perillo. “When we hold our next forum, I expect more discussion on law enforcement as well as prevention.”

After hearing several people in the audience share their experiences with specialists and successful programs to the crowd, Delphin-Rittmon said they show there is still hope in the fight against addiction.

“Services are available and recovery is possible,” said Delphin-Rittmon.

Some residents shared stories of the negative experiences with care facilities and rehab centers in the state.

Multiple residents described state’s rehab centers as either send you out of state, are impossible to be admitted to or have unfit living conditions with dealers on the property frequently preying on those with addiction.

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Chris Clouet said he has already spoke with Chief of Police, Shawn Sequiera, about putting more educational courses in Shelton schools and wants to incorporate more mental health services as well.

“We need to take guiding children into adulthood seriously. Beyond departments, beyond legislative districts, beyond neighborhoods, we need to connect mental health services in education. I want to be a part of that with you.”

A date for the next forum in Shelton hasn’t been confirmed, but was requested by many people in attendance.