In response to the opioid and heroin abuse crisis sweeping Connecticut and many parts of the country, the Wilton Youth Council will hold a panel discussion — It Starts in Your Medicine Cabinet: Protecting Our Families from the Opioid/ Heroin Epidemic — on Wednesday, April 20, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. in the Wilton High School Little Theater.
“The topic of opioid and heroin abuse and addiction has been very much in the news for the last few months, and a number of towns in Connecticut have recently hosted community forums to address the issue,” said Genevieve Eason, vice chair of the Wilton Youth Council.
“Several local agencies collaborated to organize a panel discussion in New Canaan in January, which was attended by about 250 people. That event was so well received that we decided to plan something similar for the Wilton community.”
Opiates are derived directly from the poppy plant and include heroin, morphine and codeine. Opioids are prescription painkillers that have been chemically synthesized from opiates.
Opioids like OxyContin, Vicodin and Percocet are routinely prescribed for pain management. Highly effective and fast-acting, opioids are becoming more widely abused — often crushed and then snorted or injected, or combined with alcohol and other drugs to increase the high. Abuse of opioids often leads to heroin if the pills run out or become difficult to obtain.
“Sadly, no place is immune to the reality of addiction of all different substances. Now, more than ever, we see it hitting families that we never imagined possible,” said Wilton Youth Council Chair Vanessa Elias.
“Addiction, like mental health, needs to be understood as a health issue — not as a weakness or something to be ashamed of,” said Elias. “As a community, we need to be able to connect the dots. The risks are too high not to.”

Use among youth


Elias said her biggest concern is for youth who use substances to cope with feelings like depression, anxiety or stress.
“When they rely on these substances, they fail to learn important coping skills and/ or get the help they need,” she said. “Then, when they are off to college and on their own, and their stressors intensify, their need to manage it does as well, and this is when they are most at risk for opioid and heroin use.”
According to the 2014 Wilton Youth Survey, administered by the Wilton Youth Council and Positive Directions of Westport, 0.5% of 10th graders and 2.7% of 12th graders in Wilton reported using heroin at least once in their lives, and 5.5% of 11th-12th graders reported using prescription drugs without their own prescription.
While opioid and heroin use has not reached the level in Wilton that it has in some other communities, said Eason, “Wilton has not been spared entirely.”

Close to home


According to the state chief medical examiner’s office’s 2015 report on accidental drug-related deaths, around 180 Fairfield County residents died from opioid- and opiate-related drugs between January 2012 and September 2015 — including six Wilton residents, all of whom were white men in their 20s.
In 2012, a 20-year-old Wilton resident died in Hartford from opiate toxicity.
In 2013, there were three Wilton residents — a 21-yearold who died in New Haven from opiate toxicity; a 22-year-old who died in Norwalk from heroin intoxication; and a 22-year-old who died in a home in Wilton from heroin toxicity.
In 2015, two Wilton men died with heroin in their systems. One was 26, the other was 22.
Eason said Wilton is fortunate to have members of the Wilton Volunteer Ambulance Corps (WVAC) who are trained to administer the antidote to an opioid overdose — naloxone, also known by the brand name Narcan.
“It is a short-acting medication that can save a person’s life and buy them time to get medical help,” said Eason, noting that Narcan is not a substitute for a trip to the emergency room and “it is imperative that the person receive medical care quickly” even when Narcan is used.
“On several occasions over the last six months, the WVAC administered Narcan to people in Wilton who had overdosed on opioids,” said Eason. “We do have friends and neighbors who are struggling.”

Discussion


The April 20 panel discussion will be led by Dr. John Douglas, clinical director of Silver Hill Hospital’s outpatient addiction program, who will be joined by Wilton School Resource Officer Rich Ross, Wilton Public Schools outreach counselor Kristin Dineen, Causeway Collaborative addiction counselor Vince Benevento, and two local adults in recovery.
The panel will not only explain what opioids are and how people become addicted to them but also teach people how to recognize warning signs and symptoms.
Information on treatment options will be available and audience members will have the chance to write questions on index cards, which will be collected and presented anonymously to the panelists.
“We can’t pretend that it can’t happen to us,” Eason said. “We need to get the facts so that we can take action at home to protect our families.”
League of Women Voters member Karen Birck will moderate the panel discussion, which is open to the public and appropriate for students in seventh grade and up.
A resource fair will also take place 30 minutes before and 30 minutes after the event.
For more information, email Eason at genevieve.eason@gmail.com.