This story was written by Ben Lambert and originally published in the Register Citizen.
TORRINGTON >> The number of individuals admitted to treatment programs administered by the Connecticut Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services “where the primary drug at admission was an opioid” increased from 679 in 2012 to 1,425 in 2016 — a 110 percent jump.
In response to the ever-growing opioid crisis, the Foundation for Community Health, Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation, McCall Center for Behavioral Health and the Northwest Connecticut Community Foundation recently released a new report illustrating the impact heroin and other opiates have had on residents of the Northwest Corner, sharing statistics, history and profiles of people who have struggled with addiction.
The aim of the report, representatives of the groups said, is to compliment existing efforts to combat the issue on both the individual and community level and help those interested in becoming a part of the fight find a way to do so.
“We hope that this report will provide you with information you may need to do your part in joining us to combat this epidemic. No part is too small,” wrote representatives of the four groups in the report. “Any and all actions you take or inspire will bring our community one step closer to turning the page on this problem.”
In 2016, 917 people’s deaths were attributed to accidental intoxication/overdose in Connecticut, according to the report, up from 357 in 2012.
Northwest Connecticut Community Foundation Grants and Programs Director Julia Scharnberg, who authored the report, noted both the increased prevalence of opiate prescriptions and the low cost of heroin as causes of the spike, and counted the communities affected in recent years.
“Over half the towns in Northwest Connecticut have reported opioid-related deaths,” wrote Scharnberg. “The following towns have been affected: Barkhamsted, Hartland, Harwinton, Morris, New Hartford, North Canaan, Salisbury, Sharon, Torrington, Washington, and Winchester/Winsted.”
The report also includes a look at the medical aspect of drug addiction — both the drugs themselves, and the changes in the brain they prompt — and shares the stories of people who have battled addiction in the region, as well as an analysis of addiction.
“Addiction changes the brain in fundamental ways. It disturbs a person’s normal hierarchy of needs and desires and substitutes new priorities connected with obtaining and using the drug of choice,” wrote Scharnberg. “Despite the negative consequences, the resulting compulsive behaviors continue to weaken impulse control and are remarkably similar to hallmarks of other mental illnesses.”
It also offers a series of suggestions for local residents, asking people to lock up or safely discard unused medication, talk about the issue to reduce the stigma that surrounds it, and advocate for increased funding and access to treatment, drug monitoring, and data regarding the treatment process.