A Community Conversation: Seeking Solutions to the Opioid Epidemic.

November 21, 2016

Battling the stigma associated with drug dependence was a recurring priority in a community conversation about the opioid epidemic, conducted at Griswold Middle School Nov. 9.

Approximately 25 people attended the forum, one in a series of community meetings and events aimed at finding ways to stem the tide of opioid abuse in Griswold. The forums are sponsored by Griswold PRIDE (Partnership to Reduce the Influence of Drugs for Everyone).

The need is great for help from both community members and those in political positions, said Allan Selserman, a resident of Waterford, who lost his son to drug addiction. Selserman is a member of Community Speaks Out, a grassroots organization aimed at battling addiction.

"We're not big enough to change anything, but it's a start," Selserman told the group. "We need help bad. These people [addicted to drugs] are not throwaways."

Selserman's son, Jordan, died in 2008 at age 22 from a drug overdose – ironically, while he was a resident in a "sober house." Selserman said that a change of management at the house led to an easing of restrictions, which made it possible for his son to start using drugs again. Greater supervision of sober houses should be a top priority, he said.

When asked to name positive developments in the battle against opioid addiction, participants cited the increased availability of suboxone, the medication that has been used to help wean heroin addicts off their addiction. Miranda Nagle, of Community Health Resources, coordinator of Griswold PRIDE, told the group that CHR has received a grant to fund a clinic program for suboxone.

But, she added, "There are irresponsible suboxone doctors out there," writing prescriptions but not monitoring their patients' progress or adherence to the course of medication.

Physicians' over-reliance on narcotic painkillers is a major factor in the rise of opioid abuse, said Griswold First Selectman Kevin Skulczyck.

"We know that's big piece of this," he said.

Judith Allik, of Voluntown, agreed. Even dentists will readily prescribe oxycodone for routine surgery to extract wisdom teeth, she said.

"Just because a physician prescribes a medication, ask what it is. Maybe they're not telling patients what they should," she said.

Nagle noted that a new state law provides a three-day cap on opioid prescriptions for emergency room visits and a seven-day cap for other medical issues.

The return of the DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program to Griswold Middle School was also cited as a positive step. The program had been cut from the town's education budget for some years, but is now being funded by PRIDE.

"DARE should have a program in the high school, too," said Kathleen Dufficy, who lost her son Matthew Barrett to drug addiction.

She said that Community Speaks Out could be invited to the high school, to help educate the town's teenagers about the impact of opioid abuse.

DARE is a good program for building positive relationships between youth and police, said Angela Duhaime, community educator with the Southwest Regional Action Council. But, she added, it's not evidence-based, meaning that it has not been statistically proven to reduce the incidence of drug abuse. The next level, she said, would focus on helping students to develop general coping skills that could make them less vulnerable to drug dependence.

In addition, Dufficy said, "we need more family support services – 'What do I do? Where do I go?'" Creating more outlets with wholesome activities for recovering addicts could also go a long way to prevent relapse, suggested one participant.

Selserman asked whether parents who have lived through the crisis of addiction with their own children could be called upon as resources for those family members confronted with their loved one's addiction for the first time.

Skulczyck said that he would bring the group's ideas and concerns to the Council of Government's subcommittee on drug abuse.

"The next step is using what we talked about here for action," said Nagle.

Money is always a factor in providing services, she said.

"But look at what we've done without funding," she said. "That can't be our excuse."

Winnie Neville, service director at CHR's Willimantic Adult Outpatient clinic and Jen Kollar, a program director at Pathways were  part of the planning committee that worked hard to design the event.

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