Wilton aims to raise awareness around addiction, overdoses

WILTON — Officials are looking to raise awareness about overdoses and available resources for addiction in what they hope will make progress in reversing the trend of drug misuse.

Part of that effort came in a unified show of support Wednesday, as town officials and first responders gathered around Town Hall to issue a proclamation for Overdose Awareness Day. The event happened about two weeks after local police responded to two overdoses in one night.

Second Selectman Joshua Cole read the proclamation, penned by First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice, which calls for raising awareness for those dealing with addiction and asks to acknowledge those who have died from an overdose.

“Accidental overdoses and related deaths are a public health crisis in Connecticut and the United States,” Cole read from the proclamation.

Connecticut’s overdose rate per 100,000 people is consistently in the top ten out of all state’s perennially. That rate has also jumped 77 percent from 2015 to 2020, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data mentioned in the proclamation.

According to the Connecticut Department of Public Health, nearly 8,500 unintentional overdose deaths have occurred in the state since 2015. Of that total, 12 were Wilton residents, according to the town.

But acknowledgment is just the first of many ways to bring this conversation to the forefront. Another integral step is education, and hopefully, prevention, Police Capt. Rob Cipolla said.

That is where the efforts of integral town programs come into play, like the Wilton Youth Council, Cipolla said. The council holds programs and events to teach both school-aged children and their parents the dangers of opioids and addiction.

“They do a lot of great work for education and awareness,” Cipolla said, “and they do it for parents, children, the whole community, on these types of topics.”

Cipolla said the police department and first responders will refer individuals and families seeking help or resources to the town’s social services department, which then connects them to local programs and organizations, such as Norwalk’s The Hub, a behavioral health action organization for Southwest Connecticut.

While the police do not use a specific task force designated to opioid prevention, Cipolla said one of its detectives was assigned to a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration task force at one point. There, the detective was able to both aid in federal investigations while also working to prevent the illegal distribution of drugs locally.

The department no longer has staffing to send one of its detectives to work on that task force, Cipolla said.

Cipolla did laud the state’s efforts in equipping first responders with nalaxone, known also by the brand name Narcan, to counteract the effects of an active overdose.

“We do get Narcan, and that really helps a lot,” Cipolla said. Police reported Narcan was used in both overdoses in Wilton in August — once by first responders and once by a friend of the individual prior to police arriving.