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Norwalk Forum Tackles Rising Heroin, Pill Use Across Fairfield County

Officers Max Sixto and Mark Suda of the Norwalk Police Department Special Services Division discuss how prescription pill abuse often leads to heroin use.
Officers Max Sixto and Mark Suda of the Norwalk Police Department Special Services Division discuss how prescription pill abuse often leads to heroin use. Photo Credit: Casey Donahue

NORWALK, Conn. -- Members of parent groups, the medical community and law enforcement came together Tuesday at a public forum in Norwalk to address the rising use of heroin and prescription drugs across the region.

The forum was hosted by the Mid-Fairfield Substance Abuse Coalition, a member of the Human Services Council. The forum included representatives from Norwalk police and Norwalk Hospital, and focused on finding solutions to deal with rising heroin and opiate use.

"People are dying," said Tracey George, program director of MFSAC. "This is not a law enforcement issue, it's not a medical issue, it's not a 'It's your kid, you deal with it' issue. This is a community issue."

Norwalk Police Chief Thomas Kulhawik and Officers Mark Suda and Max Sixto discussed how drug use is seen in all aspects of the community. They said people will often get hurt, become addicted to painkillers, and then move on to heroin. Bags of heroin usually cost about $20, but can be as low as $3. Heroin and prescription pills are also increasingly being snorted.

"This drug in particular, this hits all walks of life," Suda said of heroin. "We see a homeless guy on the street doing heroin, we see a guy in a suit gets off the train at 7 p.m. and goes and buys bags of heroin. When I say it's all walks of life, it's almost unbelievable."

"A pill dealer is not your average drug dealer. A pill dealer, again, is all walks of life. You have moms, dads, anybody who can go to the doctor and get a script could be a pill dealer," Suda said.

Connecticut ranks 13th in the country for dependence, and opiate overdoses are the number one cause of accidental death in the state, according to Ari Perkins, chairman of emergency medicine at Norwalk Hospital. Last year, there were 257 deaths due to opiate overdose. Norwalk Hospital saw 187 overdoses between 2012 and 2014, and has seen nine already this year. Perkins said that the average age of the person overdosing is 35 years old, and has been as low as 15 years old.

In the emergency room, people often come in, seeking pills, Perkins said. There is a website available to doctors to check whether that person has been prescribed by other doctors, and they will use that information to deny somebody the painkillers.

"We present that to them, and usually they go away, sometimes they get very angry, but rarely do they use it as an opportunity to recognize a problem, they just go on to the next hospital and continue their doctor shopping," Perkins said.

He said he would like to see more use of that resource by doctors to prevent drug abuse, as well as oversight of clinics that prescribe large amounts of medication. He would also like to see more help for people who have been identified as needing help with addiction.

Ginger Katz, a Norwalk mom who started the Courage to Speak Foundation after her son Ian died of an overdose in 1996, spoke about helping kids who are struggling with drug problems.

"If you have a problem don't keep it inside," she said. "Together we have to come and find a way to reach these children at an early age and listen to them, because they're coping with drugs, and they're not using whatever resiliency skills they have."

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