WOODBURY – There’s a sobering sight in front of the Munson-Lovetere Funeral Home this week: 29 crosses and lanterns, which represent the number of people who have died from addiction in the Woodbury and Bethlehem Communities.
And that number may be even higher, according to the Woodbury-Bethlehem Parent Connection, who set up the display with assistance from the Woodbury-Bethlehem Advocates for Substance Abuse Prevention to raise awareness of the opioid epidemic and promote prevention, awareness, and recovery.
The two groups say several more drug-related deaths may have gone unnoticed over the past 10 years, since the groups started tracking them.
“We’re hoping not for 30,” said Jeff McKenna of the Woodbury-Bethlehem Parent Connection. “But last year, we had 28.”
McKenna said the opioid epidemic isn’t necessarily a “hidden epidemic,” based on the number of headlines he’s seen over the past few years.
But McKenna said he’s finding that a lot of people don’t realize it’s a problem until it becomes their problem. By that, McKenna means until it affects themselves, their family members, or their friends.
This was something McKenna witnessed first-hand with an audience of about 40 people who attended a lecture on the opioid epidemic by Dr. Michael Saxe on Tuesday at the Woodbury Public Library.
“About half the room had seriously good questions,” McKenna said, “But you could tell that with everything prevention is doing statewide, they still don’t know the proper information because it hasn’t hit their home yet.”
Not Just Kids
One of those misconceptions about the epidemic is that it only affects teens and people in their 20s. While the crosses placed by the Woodbury-Bethlehem Parent Connection include anonymous names and the actual ages, the ages do include victims in their 30s and 50s.
Maryann Van Aken, co-chair of the Woodbury-Bethlehem Advocates for Substance Abuse, said it seems the older people with addiction issues are the ones who get hurt on the job, get hooked on their prescription, are told they are not getting any more pills, and then go seek heroin.
“Nobody wakes up and says ‘I want to be a heroin addict,'” Van Aken said. “It’s insidious how people are getting hooked. They go to the doctor and get a prescription (for an opioid), so they think it’s safe.”
Van Aken said the the whole reason the two groups got together to do the crosses was to gain draw attention to the issue. Van Aken said when someone in town dies from an overdose, a few days or weeks go by and everyone forgets about it.
“We would have lectures like this, and nobody would show up,” Van Aken said.
What Would Woodbury Do?
First Selectman Bill Butterly, who attended the lecture, said he is well aware that there is an issue with drug addiction in town, and wants to do something about it. One thing he is seeking to do is to have the Town of Woodbury join a municipal lawsuit against Stamford-based Purdue Pharmaceutical.
That suit claims that “pharmaceutical manufacturers triggered a deadly nationwide epidemic by deliberately misrepresenting the risks of opioid painkiller,” according to the Hartford Courant.
“It’s one of the bigger problems we have in town,” Butterly said. “We have speeders, we have domestic problems, but drugs are a big problem. It leads to theft, it leads to family fighting, it leads to a lot of things.”
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