Opioid crisis takes center stage at forum

State Sen. George Logan, standing, speaks during a forum on the opioid crisis Oct. 29 at Naugatuck High School. -ANDREAS YILMA

NAUGATUCK — A panel of 21 professionals gathered at Naugatuck High School Oct. 29 to discuss the crisis of opioid addiction.

State Sen. George Logan, R-17th District, who hosted the event, said he believed solid public policies to address the issue of opioid addiction can only advance through difficult and respectful discussions.

“We can’t let up on getting the word out. We can’t let up on the fight to combat this because that is enemy of it,” Logan said. “As soon as we take our feet off the pedal, that’s when we’re going to lose the war on opioids, on addiction.”

Benedetto Petrocelli, 29, of Oxford, who was an opioid addict for eight years and has been clean for two years, addressed those in attendance. He feels more needs to be done to educate the community.

“I just think that there needs to be a lot more said about what these pills really do to these young kids,” he said.

As the state addresses the opioid problem, Maureen Platt, the state’s attorney for the judicial district of Waterbury, said the state has hired additional medical examiners to keep pace with opioid-related deaths.

“This year it’s estimated we are going to exceed 1,100 deaths of people from opioids,” Platt said.

The National Institute of Drug Abuse reported there were 955 opioid deaths in Connecticut in 2017. There were about 800 in 2016.

“We at the courthouse have realized for a long time that incarceration is not the solution to opioid addiction,” Platt said.

The Naugatuck Police Department agrees with Platt. The department launched its Police Assisted Addiction Recovery Initiative in September. Through the program, officers connect people who have overdosed or are at risk of overdosing with a recovery coach.

“We’ve spent a lot time trying to arrest our way out of a lot problems. I don’t think this problem is going to get solved by just arresting our way out of it,” police Lt. Daniel Nork said. “We’ve attacked the supply for so many years and I don’t know if it’s really working. So maybe we need to attack the supply and demand.”

Connecticut Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services Commissioner Mariam E. Delphin-Rittmon spoke on the programs available for those with addiction.

One such service, said the commissioner, was a webpage on the department’s website, ct.gov/dmhas, that lets people know where medical assisted treatment is available. There also is a number, 1-800-563-4086, available for people seeking help.

Naugatuck Valley Health District Director of Health Jessica Stelmaszek spoke about how the health district is using data to help tackle the problem with opioids. One of the programs is an Overdose Detection Mapping Application Program. Under the ODMAP, she said, first responders must call the Connecticut Poison Control Center and report the use of Narcan, a drug that helps reverse an opioid overdose.

Tracking the use of Narcan, Stlemaszek said, helps determine the hotspots for opioid abuse in the state.