PLAINVILLE - Law enforcement and health care professionals educated six local seniors on the opioid epidemic at the Plainville Senior Citizens Center Thursday.
Speakers Cathy Sisco of Connecticut Clearinghouse and the Wheeler Clinic; Suruchi Patel of Plainville Community Pharmacy; and Plainville Police Officer Jamie Fenn spoke on a variety of topics related to opioid addiction. They included what to do if someone is overdosing, how to recognize signs of overdose, how to properly dispose of medication and how to keep medication secure.
Sisco said “opioid abuse” is an umbrella term that covers illegal street drugs such as heroin and fentanyl and legally prescribed medications.
“Half of the prescription drugs that are misused are done so by friends and family members,” said Sisco. “They are overprescribed to a patient who then, for example, sees that someone has hurt their knee. They then say, ‘Why not take some of mine so that it doesn’t go to waste?’ There is a perceived lack of risk, with people thinking, ‘My doctor gave these to me so it must be OK.’ ”
Sisco said heroin abuse in the state “took off” in 2010 and became even worse when fentanyl was created in 2013, as a kind of synthetic heroin.
“There were 63,600 opioid deaths in the country in 2016,” said Sisco. “Connecticut has a higher than average rate of overdose, with 27.4 of every 100,000 people dying by overdose compared to the national average of 19.8. In 2015 there were 723 deaths by overdose, which grew to 917 in 2016. In 2017 there were a little over 1,000.”
Patel said opioid abuse is seen across many age groups. She said that, as a pharmacist, her role is to not overprescribe medication.
She encouraged patients to ask doctors what options besides opioids might exist for treatment.
“Many people become addicted because they start taking prescriptions three or four times a day when they are supposed to take them a maximum of once or twice a day, as needed,” she said. “Then, they find that their medications stop working the way they used to. They try to go for another prescription and if they can’t get it, they may turn to heroin.”
Patel then told attendees about how Narcan could be used to revive someone who has overdosed and stopped breathing. She advised them to call 911 immediately. Those who call about an overdose are protected from arrest by state law.
Fenn said when he became an officer 10 years ago, the focus was more on marijuana and that heroin and other opioids were not a local issue. He said opioid abuse has “exploded” in the past 10 years.
Fenn said warning signs of opioid abuse include being unable to hold a job, flunking out of school and “being sick in bed all the time.”
“Another indication is that someone who is addicted will steal everything that is not tied down,” he said.
Fenn encouraged the seniors to keep their medications locked in a safe. He said most police stations have boxes where people can properly dispose of them.
Brian M. Johnson can be reached at 860-973-1806 or firstname.lastname@example.org.