This story originally appeared in the Register Citizen.
By Kathleen Schassler
HARTFORD >> Nearly 2,000 opioid-involved deaths over five years has ravaged families throughout most of Connecticut’s 169 towns and cities.
A new municipal toolkit was created for local leaders to deal with the epidemic, a public health crisis impacting now every community in the state.
At the heart of the issue is painkiller addictions that typically lead users to heroin which is a cheaper and accessible drug, according to a report recently published by the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities. In it, officials request that the governor declare heroin abuse a statewide epidemic.
“The rate at which Connecticut is seeing overdose deaths is staggering,” said Rudy Marconi in the report. The Ridgefield first selectman is also chair of the CCM Drug Abuse Prevention Work Group. Local officials have the “capacity and obligation” to lead communities through this epidemic by “providing practical policies” that combat the crisis, he said.
The 25-page public-policy toolkit, “How Local Leaders Can Combat Drug Abuse,” offers a plan for leadership and guidance to help “stem the crisis and provide support to individuals and families struggling to overcome addiction to save lives.”
A 2014 Drug Abuse Prevention Work Group was tasked with examining the growing concern of drug abuse in the state, with this report offering encouragement for a community-based response.
Municipal leaders “can make real difference in addressing the crisis,” Ron Thomas, CCM deputy director, wrote in the report. “In doing so, lives will be saved and healthier and safer communities will thrive.”
The tools offer officials 10 ways to combat drug abuse in their communities, including objectives like “dedicate time to understand substance abuse and the epidemic in your community” to “take the lead to increase public awareness” and “designate a municipal point person regarding substance abuse.” All suggestions drill further down with explanations of helpful resources.
Other ideas include increased collaboration and public education, including the idea of a “one-page fact sheet and resource guide” for residents.
“The issue is complex, the solution not singular,” according to the toolkit. “Municipal leaders and employees have key roles to play. From the municipal CEO to the first responder and those within our schools, parks and recreation and local service providers can work to address the growing need.”
A conversation must take place between not just lawmakers, but public health officials, law enforcement and the general public, according to Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano. “It must be a conversation among all stakeholders,” said Fasano, in the report, with support from House Republican Leader Themis Klarides. “Together we need an open dialogue and we can’t wait any longer.”
The info includes the 2016 accidental overdose data, along with trends since 2012.
The work group includes municipal leaders from many towns, including Torrington, Durham, Roxbury, Litchfield, Somers and East Haddam. Other organizations represented include Enfield Social Services, the Connecticut State Police, Connecticut Association of Prevention Practitioners, Killingworth Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition, New Haven Health Department, Madison Youth and Family Services, and many others.
For more, visit www.DrugFreeCT.org.