Opioid Abuse Prevention, Education Preached
New Haven Independent, April 26, 2019
By CCM staff
Scores of individuals and organizations in Connecticut are working on the frontlines of the state’s opioid epidemic, seeking to prevent more abuse through public education.
Among them are the Fairfield Health Department and the Southington Police Department, which both sent representatives to join this week’s episode of Connecticut Conference of Municipalities’ “The Municipal Voice on WNHH.”
Fairfield Health Educator Santina Jaronko said the opioid epidemic started in the 1990s when pharmaceutical companies started pushing prescription opioids, such as Oxycontin, Vicoden, and sometimes Fentanyl. They claimed that the drugs were not addictive.
But users can become depend within just five days, and addiction to these legal drugs sometimes leads users to a cheaper alternative in heroin.
She said that Connecticut saw around 1,000 opioid-related deaths in 2018 alone.
This leaves our communities with a problem: How do you stop a crisis that produces 1,000 deaths every year? “As a community, we realized that prevention and education are extremely important to go along with a law enforcement component,” Southington Police Deputy Chief William Palmieri said.
He quoted Frederick Douglass, saying, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”
He noted the steps created to educate Southington’s youth population, which includes a partnership with the Southington Town-Wide Effort to Promote Success (STEPS).
One important step they’ve also taken is to ask the victims of addiction how they got started, what they were initially taking, frequency of use, and if they’ve ever tried treatment.
Centralized data resource back to top
Both Palmieri and Jaronko noted that there wasn’t a centralized data resource for overdose events. Palmieri suggested that if the state could centralize the data, it would be beneficial to all involved. He said that an overdose in Southington doesn’t necessarily mean that the drug came from Southington.
But taking statistics on the crisis is extremely difficult.
Jaronko noted that attendance at Narcan classes at Fairfield Health increased by over 400% in one year. This means that individuals who carry the life-saving device might not be registered in a centralized data resource if they don’t report to the police or an emergency room.
Palmieri said that for all the prevention work that they do, it won’t be until years later that they find out whether or not it their work has had a meaningful impact on the community.
The opioid epidemic is not just the responsibility of the police, health departments, or municipalities, which often bear the costs of taking action.
“I think continuing educating the community about the problem, about proper medication disposal, tapping into different groups, and educating people as much as we can” is the best path forward, Jaronko said. “I don’t think it’s going away any time soon. We are making some progress, but it’s not going to disappear.”