Pubdate: Sun, 06 Mar 2016
Source: Register Citizen (CT)
Copyright: 2016 Register Citizen
Author: NF Ambery


Awareness Forum Addresses Growing Opioid Epidemic

GOSHEN - "Northwest Connecticut has been reeling from an unfortunate 
epidemic," began Brian Ohler, director of the United Coalition of 
Northwest Connecticut to an audience of 25 at the Goshen Center 
School, "one that is plagued by rampant drug-related overdose deaths."

Ohler moderated an Opioid Awareness Forum at 50 North St. Saturday.

Various area drug counselors and health workers discussed the subject 
of the burgeoning heroin epidemic and treatment options and possible 
solutions in Litchfield County. Audience members included health care 
workers, concerned local politicians, and bereaved mothers.

The six speakers included state Rep. Jay Case, R-63; Maria 
Coutant-Skinner, executive director of the McCall Center for 
Behavioral Health in Torrington, and others.

"All of us who are gathered at this school have acknowledged a very 
real and a very tragic reality," Ohler addressed the audience. 
"Heroin is a very potent, highly-addictive, illegal street drug that 
can lead to serious complications in all areas of an addict's life."

Ohler, who said he has treated many heroin-overdose cases in his work 
as an emergency medical technician on the North Canaan Volunteer 
Ambulance Corps, quoted a report from the Office of the Chief Medical 
Examiner in Farmington.

He said that in 2012, the number of accidental intoxication deaths 
numbered 355. By 2015, that number more than doubled. "Tragically, as 
2015 came to a close, 723 Connecticut residents lost their lives to 
drug-related overdoses," Ohler added.

"Twenty of that number came from right here in the Northwest Corner," 
he continued. "Victims included scholar-athletes, mothers, fathers, 
grandparents, and college students with full academic scholarships, 
to name a few." He added, "This drug does not discriminate."

The National Institute on Drug Abuse's website defines opioids as a 
class of pain-relieving medications that include hydrocodone 
(Vicodin); oxycodone (Oxy-Contin, Percocet); morphine (Kadian, 
Avinza), codeine, and related drugs. Hydrocodone products are 
commonly prescribed for dental and injury-related pain. Morphine 
alleviates severe pain around surgical procedures. Codeine is often 
prescribed for mild pain and to relieve coughs and severe diarrhea.

Nationally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 
reported in 2015 that drug overdose constituted the leading cause of 
accidental death in the U.S., with 47,055 lethal drug overdoses in 
2014. According to the CDC's National Vital Statistics System's 
Mortality File, opioid addiction led the epidemic in 2014, with 
18,893 overdose deaths related to prescription-related pain 
relievers, and 10,574 heroin-related overdose deaths.

During Saturday's forum, Ohler said "Heroin is a problem police can't 
arrest their way out of." Ohler cited the need for younger people to 
talk more about possible drug problems with their families. He also 
suggested drug-awareness campaigns that relegated heroin to the 
status of cigarette smoking.

"In the 1980s, a smoking habit was taught as smelly and deadly," he 
said. "We need to put opioid and heroin addiction in the same 
category as cigarettes."

He added, "Part of the problem is that it is no longer a 'dirty 
drug.' People don't use needles to inject it. Today, they smoke or 
snort it. There is no obvious effect." He added, "But one hit and 
you're addicted." Combined with other drugs or alcohol, opioids and 
heroin can cause heart attack, stroke, and death, he said.

Ohler introduced each speaker, who gave a short talk about working 
with heroin addicts or in drug-abuse legislation. A 
question-andanswer session followed.

Lori Puff, chief quality officer at Sharon Hospital in Sharon, said, 
"When I first started nursing 22 years ago, heroin wasn't even heard 
of." She added, "About five or six years ago, working in a 
Westchester County (New York) hospital, we started getting 
overdoses." She said case involved three 16 year olds who had 
injected heroin and couldn't be revived. "The screams stay with me 
until this day," she added.

Puff said she believes the average addict begins as a young person 
who started using pills snatched from parents. "It begins in their 
medicine cabinet," Puff said. "Also, often the grandparents are 
raising the grandchildren because the parents are addicts."

Puff stressed the need for parents to talk to their children about 
drug abuse at an early age. "If you start when they are in high 
school, you miss the boat," Puff said. "My grandchildren are ages 4 
and 5, and I told them about what I was speaking about today."

Nancy Basti, a licensed professional counselor practicing in 
Litchfield, stressed the need to treat mental illness with proper 
therapy and resources as opposed to experimenting with drugs to do the job.

Dana Pollack, licensed clinical social worker at High Watch Recover 
Center in Kent, added, "Some parents think it's OK for their kids to 
smoke marijuana as opposed to taking A.D.H.D. medication." A. D. H. 
D. stands for "Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder," a common 
childhood disorder that includes difficulty in focusing, 
hyperactivity, and impulsiveness.

Some speakers and audience members agreed marijuana is a "gateway 
drug," to harder substance abuse.

Coutant-Skinner said "We need to mobilize every section of the 
community. This means strengthening the community."

She noted that when people think of drug abusers "I think often there 
is an 'us-versus-them' attitude. It is a protective thought. But this 
crisis doesn't respect any of those boundaries. This affects every 
single part of this community. Everyone is invested."

During the question-andanswer period, Judy, who declined to give her 
last name, who works as a health care professional, detailed the 
drug-related death of her son, who became addicted to opiates 
following severe motorcycling injuries.

"My son was one of the 355 who died in 2012," she said. "He was 28-years-old."

Judy said the system failed her son in manifold ways. "Drug treatment 
programs turned him away because he was on Medicare/ Medicaid," she said.

Coutant-Skinner added, "Wehave to look for the gaps in access to help."

She outlined possible common and frustrating scenarios for drug-abuse 

"The police and emergency medical services see the same folks. The 
E.M.S. can't get them into care. Or you can't get them into 
treatment. We also have to look at how we treat pain. We can ask, ' 
Can this injury be treated with an ice pack instead of a Percocet?" 
Percocet is an opioid pain reliever combining acetaminophen and oxycodone.

During the question-andanswer period, Pat Mosimann of Morris asked 
about legislation which would enable recovering addicts' families to 
administer Narcan, an opiate antidote that can revive an overdosing patient.

Garrett Deutermann, community case manager at Charlotte Hungerford 
Hospital in Torrington, said medications that block opiate-craving, 
such as Vivitrol, are administered to some patients. Deutermann's 
duties include reaching out to heroin-overdose victims in the 
hospital's emergency roomand guiding them into treatment.

"If people can't do the abstinence route, it is used if the addict 
considers not using another day," Deutermann said, adding that 
Vivitrol is used in pill form or by injection, which lasts 28 days in 
a patient.

Case stressed possible changes in admission policies to drug rehab 
clinics. "Some are set up so you can only gain admission to the 
clinic while high," Case said.

He added that state budget cuts have negatively impacted many 
state-funded rehab clinics as well as "sober houses," which are 
drugand alcohol-free halfway houses. "It is always a dollar issue," 
he added. "Of course, all these budgets cuts are causing more and 
more addicts."

Case later said on a positive note, "If we impact one person in 
Goshen today, then we have done our job." He said later, "Local 
school systems are having (drug awareness) training for teachers and 
parents and can teach 60 at a time. It is funded by the federal government."

Ohler said that since the fall of 2015, the Coalition has provided 
opioid-related information and resources to more than 100 families in 
need. The group has sponsored forum two previous forums on the 
subject, one at Sharon Hospital in the Fall of 2015.

Among the Saturday afternoon Forum audience, Terence Dougherty, 
former CEO and current governance managing director of Mountainside 
Treatment Center, a drug rehab in North Canaan, said, "Our area is 
treatment but there is a great need for prevention. The situation is 
frightening. They (the addicts) are getting younger and younger all the time."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom