You shouldn’t be shocked by Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death

What you need to know about the growing opioid epidemic

Recently we lost one of our most talented actors to heroin. Philip Seymour Hoffman relapsed last May after being sober for 23 years. While many were shocked to learn that an actor of such renown could die with a heroin needle in his arm, they shouldn’t be.

Opiate addiction can happen to anyone: housewives, business professionals, working class laborers, teachers, students — anyone who takes prescription painkillers and has a genetic predisposition to opiate addiction can become addicted.

Make no mistake, there is a growing opioid epidemic going on in this country; Fairfield County is not exempt. In Connecticut one person dies every day from an opioid overdose on average.

According to the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy, the number of deaths involving heroin surged 45% between 1999 and 2010. Every day there are between 75 and 100 deaths due to opiate overdose.

This epidemic is taking a huge toll on our young people. Prescription drugs are now one of the leading killers of teens in the United States. Teens typically start with prescription painkillers, such as OxyContin and Vicodin, found in the family medicine cabinet. Those who become addicted will often move on to heroin because it is cheaper and easier to get.

If you think this cannot happen to your child, think again. People who never could have imagined putting a needle in their arm and shooting heroin, do so after getting hooked on prescription drugs.

If you or a loved one has had or needs treatment for opiate abuse, here’s what you need to know:

Relapse is likely; statistics show that 90% of opiate addicts will relapse within the first year after completing a traditional treatment program.

Upon discharge from treatment, make sure the addicted person has a relapse-prevention and follow-up treatment plan in place.

When a person relapses, they will often go back to using at the same level they used before treatment. Because their tolerance levels drop after they have been clean for period of time, they are more susceptible to overdosing.

The person with the addiction, family and friends and first responders should all have access to Naloxone (or Narcan). It can reverse an opiate overdose.

In Connecticut, you can get Naloxone from physicians, surgeons, physician’s assistants (PAs), Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs), dentists and podiatrists.

If you are the addicted person and you relapse, do not use alone. Keep a vial of Naloxone on hand.

If you are with someone and they overdose, call 911. You will be protected by the “Good Samaritan” law and will not be arrested.

If you or a loved one needs treatment, find a provider with experienced licensed or certified counselors who are trained to treat addiction. Look for centers that are CARF or JCAHO accredited. Proven treatments for addiction include cognitive behavioral therapy, motivational interviewing and psychopharmacology. Medications are particularly effective in treating opiate addictions.

If you have children at home and have any unused prescription drugs in your medicine cabinet, lock them up until you can turn them in at a Drug Take Back Day.

The opiate abuse epidemic will need to be confronted on many fronts to be overcome. But knowledge is power and there are steps and safe guards that many of us can take to start to turn the tide.

Editors’s note: Unused prescription drugs may be dropped off at any time at the Wilton Police Department, 240 Danbury Road. A receptacle in the police lobby allows for confidential drop-off.