Increase in heroin deaths a public 'health crisis'
a public 'health crisis'
Drug-related deaths are up dramatically in Connecticut, and the rapidly increasing number of fatalities caused by heroin overdoses, mostly among young people, is an epidemic.
That epidemic has hit Greater Danbury, and it reflects similar trends in the state, throughout New England and across the United States.
The statistics are alarming, and the human toll is downright tragic.
Governmental, agency and health officials from U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin to New Fairfield addiction specialist Dr. Peter Rostenberg are calling the increase in heroin use an immediate, urgent, public "health crisis."
Parents, community leaders and officials at every level of government need to be aware of the growing problem, make it an urgent priority, and work together to combat the evil, deadly foe of drug fatalities.
According to the state Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, the overall number of Connecticut deaths caused by drugs jumped from 435 in 2012 to 539 in 2013 -- an increase of nearly 25 percent.
Unsurprisingly, the problem was most severe in the cities, including a near doubling of drug-related deaths in both Bridgeport (from 19 to 34) and Danbury (from nine to 17).
Officials are particularly alarmed at the growing number of deaths caused by a class of drugs called opioids, especially heroin.
Again, Connecticut's cities had the most deaths from opioid overdoses in 2013, with Danbury suffering the greatest carnage in the area -- 11 drug-related deaths, five of them involving heroin.
Importantly, however, officials emphasize this is a problem that afflicts every single community.
New Milford residents have been rocked by the deaths of eight of their neighbors in 2013 via opioid overdoses, four of them heroin-related -- the highest per capita rate in the Greater Danbury area.
New Milford's statistics, and those in a number of similar suburban towns, demand attention and serve as a wakeup call to those who want to believe "it doesn't happen here."
New Milford police Chief Shawn Boyne is one of those who is highly aware of the problem in his town, and he and his department are aggressively seeking to cut off supply by tracking down those who deal heroin and other drugs.
The New Milford Police Department has already made several arrests, and they hope to make more in the future.
But Boyne is a realist, and he offers sage advice when he says a community-wide effort is needed to reduce drug use and drug-related deaths.
Indeed it will take a community -- be it Danbury, New Milford or elsewhere -- to tackle and hopefully minimize the crisis.
In every municipality -- large and small -- awareness needs to be raised, and drug law enforcement needs to be aggressive and effective.
We call on community leaders, members of the clergy, heads of agencies and organizations -- everyone in a position to use the bully pulpit or rally the troops -- to join in the battle to prevent drug-related deaths.
We urge parents to be more aware of what their children are doing and to do all in their power to prevent a drug death in their family.
We urge siblings and friends to ignore peer pressure and to take an active role in trying to help a brother, sister or friend they know is plagued by drug use.
This is a crisis, and it is right in our back yard.
This is a battle that must be won. And it will take a community to do it.