To the Editor:

Across the state of Connecticut, in both cities and small towns, individuals, families and institutions are dealing with a drastic increase in the use of heroin.

Fueled by the easy access to prescription pain medication, heroin overdoses and deaths are becoming too commonplace.

However, this is not a problem faced by Connecticut alone.

As quoted March 10 in a News-Times article, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder called the national increase in heroin-related deaths an "urgent and growing public health crisis" and "addiction to heroin and other opiates, including certain prescription pain killers, is impacting the lives of Americans in every state, in every region and from every background and walk of life -- and all too often, with deadly results."

In a Jan. 8, 2014 article, the New York Times reported on that same day, Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin devoted his entire State of the State message to what he said was "a full-blown heroin crisis gripping Vermont."

"In every corner of our state, heroin and opiate drug addiction threatens us," he said.

In that same article, Dr. Harry L. Chen, Vermont's Health Commissioner, said in an interview, "the rate of overdose deaths across the country had tripled since 1990.

"Nationwide, more people die of drug overdoses than from motor vehicle crashes," he said.

Dr. Chen also noted the highest rates of substance abuse were found in New England and the Northeast.

In the March 9 News-Times, the first article of a three-part series "Heroin in the Suburbs" was published.

Although this front-page article contained important information, its focus on a single town leaves one concerned many readers from other areas served by the paper are left with a false sense of security; "thank goodness we don't live in New Milford."

In fact, the opposite is true.

Unlike many communities around the country that refuse to recognize the dangers of this epidemic, New Milford has and will continue to address the situation with a combination of positive and proven solutions.

The New Milford Youth Substance Abuse Prevention Council -- made up of the Youth Agency, New Milford Hospital, New Milford school system, New Milford Police Department, MCCA, and a local private substance abuse counselor -- has been, over the past several months, developing and implementing programs to address this situation.

Over the past 10 months, the council has coordinated a health and wellness fair at New Milford High School, funded two presentations of "DIRT" -- one-man show promoting positive decision making -- at New Milford High School for students and parents, and hosted the second annual Parent University, a full-day of free workshops for area parents which included sessions on substance abuse prevention.

In addition, the New Milford Youth Agency's video production program has created four different segments dealing with the dangers of heroin and prescription drug abuse available on the Youth Agency's websites.

Another resource maintained by the council, www.nmsubstanceabusecouncil.org, connects viewers with current information, events, workshops and other links for parents and students.

In addition, plans are in place to:

Install a permanent prescription drug drop box in the police station;

Contact all of the pharmacies in town to have them include, with all narcotic prescriptions, a card explaining how to properly and safely dispose of unused prescriptions;

Launch a poster campaign to help make people aware of the dangers of prescription drugs and their connection to the increase in heroin usage. These posters will be distributed throughout the town at locations including doctors' offices, the hospital and its emergency room;

Each class at the high school will be visited by the school health department and police department for a short update on heroin and the dangers of prescription drug abuse;

and offer a screening of "Anonymous People" -- a feature documentary film about the 23.5 million Americans living in long-term recovery from addiction to alcohol and other drugs -- Sunday, March 30 from 6 to 8 p.m. at The Maxx on Railroad Street.

The film shines a light on the personal and societal value of recovery through the moving stories of people who have gone public with their recovery. The film will be followed by a question and answer session with the filmmaker, Greg Williams.

Like most issues affecting communities, the first step in combatting problems is education.

The New Milford Youth Substance Abuse Prevention Council is here to help make parents aware of potential dangers their children may face and is ready to help in any way we can.

Mark Mankin

Executive Director

New Milford

Youth Agency

on behalf of

New Milford Youth

Substance Abuse

Prevention Council