Pubdate: Fri, 11 Mar 2016
Source: Day, The (New London,CT)
Copyright: 2016 The Day Publishing Co.
Author: Karen Florin


Norwich - If they're still breathing, there's hope.

When somebody overdoses on heroin and is treated in the emergency 
room at The William W. Backus Hospital, they speak to an outreach 
worker before they leave.

It's one of the steps members the Norwich Heroin Task Force, 
comprising social services agencies, health care providers, police 
and others are taking as they try to get a handle on the growing 
number of heroin- and opiate- addicted residents in the region.

More than 120 people attended a forum on the growing public health 
crisis Thursday, with presentations from social workers, doctors, 
addiction specialists and parents of addicted children.

Karen Butterworth-Erban, regional director of emergency services for 
Hartford Healthcare, said that as the number of overdose patients 
doubled in 2014 and 2015, emergency room staff at Backus and its 
affiliates in Plainfield and Willimantic realized they weren't doing 
much to follow up with overdose patients, who usually feel fine after 
they are treated with Narcan.

Since July 2015, a mobile outreach crisis worker from the Department 
of Mental Health and Addiction Services has been visiting those 
patients at bedside and following up with them the next day, she 
said. "They say, ' This is what happened. You almost died today. What 
are you going to do about it?' " Butterworth-Erban said.

Like kicking an opiate or heroin addiction, it doesn't always work 
the first time. But Butterworth- Erban said the outreach workers 
continued to speak with those who come back a second or third time.

Angela Duhaime, community educator with Southeastern Regional Action 
Council said a survey of Norwich students in grades seven through 12 
found the use of prescription drugs was higher than the use of marijuana.

Dr. Ramindra Walia, chief medical officer for United Community and 
Family Services, appealed to parents to safeguard their prescription 
drugs, and not have drugs like marijuana available in the home.

But Walia also acknowledged that doctors and nurse practitioners are 
at the forefront of the prescripton drug problem. He said in medical 
school, he only had two or three classes on the subject.

"The MDs and APRNs are in the forefront of this," Walia said. "We are 
writing prescriptions for this."

He said asking why doctors aren't better trained in prescription 
medications is "one of the little things that can start the revolution."

"And believe me, we do need a revolution," he said.

Joe de la Cruz of Groton, a founding member of Community Speaks Out, 
said he had been waiting to hear a doctor say what Walia said.

His son, Joey Gingerella, is in recovery and has been opiate-free 
since August 2015, but many pill users move on to heroin, the cheaper 
and more readily available opiate alternative.

"What shocked me when my son was using prescription opiates is that I 
saw that we had been tricked," de la Cruz said. "We've been asking 
for two years to change the name of Percocet to Heroin, Level 1 and 
the name of Oxycontin to Heroin, Level 2. I guarantee you any parent 
is not going to give their kid heroin for their toothache."

Jack Malone, executive director of the Southeastern Council on 
Alcohol and Drug Dependency, said that insurance companies don't 
provide appropriate coverage for rehabiliation programs and aftercare 
programs because the public does not voice its outrage like it did 
when insurers wanted women to go home the same day they had a baby or 
a mastectomy.

"The outrage from the community was so large and so fast and so quick 
that legislators across the country told the insurance companies to 
change the law."

Hearing Malone speak, Duhaime and others decided to develop a form 
letter that people could send to their legislators to request action.

Malone, a former state representative, said also that the government 
has failed the people, since heroin, which is grown and made out of 
the country, is distributed in every community in the nation.

"It's an underground economy," he said. "It's not pounds of heroin 
that are coming into this nation. It's tons of heroin."

William Gilbert, director of operations at Catholic Charities, said 
one of the things the community could do right away is understand 
that addiction is a disease and not begrudge somebody who relapses.

"We have to understand they have a disease and they can be helped as 
often and frequently and compassionately as those who have any other 
disease," he said.

Lisa Cote Johns, whose son Christopher Johns died of a heroin 
overdose in 2013, said it is her "newfound job" to educate and 
prevent any child from becoming addicted.

She is a member of Community Speaks Out, a Groton-based grass-roots 
organization that runs support groups, helps parents find treatment 
programs and even distributes Narcan, the overdose antidote.

"Never give up on your child, so long as they're breathing," Johns 
told the gathering.

The state Department of Mental Health and Addiction services this 
week launched a toll-free number - 1 (800) 563- 4086 - for state 
residents to call if they or their loved ones need treatment for 
opioid addiction.

On the Web, people can get information from dmhas/walkins.

Also Thursday, the U.S. Senate passed the Comprehensive Addiction 
Recovery Act, which if passed into law would fund treatment efforts 
and access to overdose-prevention drugs, strengthen consumer 
education about opioid abuse and provide follow-up services to people 
who have received overdose reversal drugs.

The Senate also has passed legislation to prevent pill-seeking 
patients from doctor shopping and devote more funding to law 
enforcement efforts to combat drug trafficking

The forum, which organizers said was the beginning of an ongoing 
conversation, was sponsored by NFA, Norwich Human Services, Norwich 
Heroin Task Force and Norwich Prevention Council, NFA Prevention Council.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom