Every effort must be undertaken to fight drug epidemic

More and more emergency responders in Greater New Milford and throughout the state now are equipped to potentially save the lives of those caught in the grip of a national epidemic.

The epidemic is heroin and other opiod use; the life-saving antidote is Narcan, the brand name for naloxone.

When administered quickly, Narcan can reverse the immediate effects of an overdose.

Every first responding unit in a town or city should have this drug on hand, whether the responders are paramedics, emergency medical technicians, firefighters or the police, and they must be trained in how to use it.

Until Oct. 1, the drug was available in the state primarily by prescription -- not ideal when minutes form the difference between life and death.

Yet the new "Good Samaritan" law provides criminal and civil immunity to anyone administering Narcan to an overdose victim.

The $28 per syringe is a small cost to potentially save a life, and is not prohibitive for first responders to stock with other equipment.

The fact that heroin and other opiod use -- and deadly overdoses -- are increasing is undisputed. What doctors call an epidemic is everywhere, not just in the cities.

In 2013, New Milford was shocked by eight opiod-related overdose deaths of young people, half of them from heroin.

Nearby towns similarly also experienced overdose deaths that year: in Bethel, two from heroin; in Newtown, 1 from heroin; in Ridgefield, 1 from an other opiate; in Danbury, five from heroin and six from other drugs.

The overall number of deaths in Connecticut caused by drugs jumped by nearly 25 percent from 435 in 2012 to 539 in 2013.

Those who died were not necessarily hardened drug users. Overdoses can happen on the first try of heroin or by obtaining a tainted batch.

Narcan can save people from the consequences of foolish mistakes, but it is not the sole answer.

Towns must continue the hard work, such as undertaken in New Milford earlier this year, to educate students and parents about the dangers of these drugs.

The availability of prescription narcotics, such as highly addictive oxycontin, can easily lead to heroin use, experts said in citing reasons for the increase in overdoses. Parents should lock up prescriptions so they are not used or sold by teens.

Programs should be promoted as simple as drug take-back boxes at the New Milford Police Department and other area sites where residents can deposit unused pain killers.

A response of education and prevention is required from every community angle -- in the schools, with police, counselors, medical professionals, treatment providers, students and parents.