Community Forum on Opioid Use in the Community

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October 26, Southington, Conn - More than 60 attendees filled the Southington Public Library's community room to capacity on October 26 for a “Community Conversation on Opiates and Heroin.”

Wheeler, Bristol Hospital and the library sponsored the event, which featured a six-member panel discussion highlighting what individuals, families and communities need to know about opiates and overdose; where to get help; how to support and set limits for those struggling with addiction; and the value of recovery. Judith Stonger, MA, CPS, CARC, vice president of Prevention, Wellness and Recovery for Wheeler, moderated the event.

“The issue of drug abuse, especially heroin, was the number one concern raised by participants at the Library’s recent Community Forum,” said Sue Smayda, library director, Southington Public Library, as she introduced the panel, comprising:

Hope, recovery and the need for support and treatment were overarching themes from the audience and panel throughout the night. 

Dr. Manoharan kicked off the discussion with a historical perspective on opioid use, bringing the narrative up to the current epidemic, which caused more than 47,000 deaths in America in 2014. The conversation and questions from the audience quickly moved to treatment options, such as Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) for addiction, which Dr. Patel described in detail, particularly the need to combine MAT with counseling and therapy for better treatment outcomes. He also discussed the complex nature of how heroin disrupts and hijacks the body’s internal regulatory systems, and how medication assisted treatment not only helps to normalize this process, but also assists with reducing cravings and drug withdrawal, which are often obstacles to long term recovery.

“Heroin rarely travels alone as the only addiction,” Patel said. “Medications such as Suboxone, methadone and Vivitrol are effective life-saving evidence-based treatments for tackling the opioid epidemic." He further added, “although these medications are an important part of the equation, the medical profession needs to be more aware of the role of social and recovery supports in helping someone sustain long term recovery.”

Thompson and Colasanto added that there are multiple pathways to recovery, and family members in the audience—including several who shared that they'd lost children to drug overdoses—offered stories highlighting the need for support and care for family members as well as those actively using and abusing substances.

One of the most moving moments of the event was Allen’s story, documenting her journey into heroin addiction and more than 18 years of recovery. She emphasized the need for family members to speak up and advocate for more treatment options and support, a point echoed by Colasanto.

“More and more families aren’t going to hide from discussing addiction any more. We’re seeing them demand change.”

Leppard shared signs of drug use and abuse that families and friends should look for, and Manoharan added that broader education is needed across communities, such as events like the conversation.

“Ultimately, prevention and education is what is needed to turn this epidemic around.”