Opioid Abuse in Greenwich a Top Priority For Tesei

By Michelle Moskowitz
Sentinel Correspondent

At last week’s Board of Selectman’s meeting held at Town Hall, Greenwich First Selectman Peter Tesei identified the pervasive opioid epidemic as one of his top priority issues.

Last year, while the drug crisis began to grow at an alarming rate, Tesei commissioned a comprehensive report in conjunction with the Greenwich Department of Human Services and Liberation Programs, one of Fairfield County’s leading health organizations for substance abuse.

The report titled, “Starting the Conversation: An Inside Look at Opioid Use in Greenwich, Connecticut” was published in October of 2016.

While the year-old report concluded that the opioid crisis had not reached epidemic proportion in Greenwich, Tesei and other community leaders continue to address what they term ‘a smoldering problem’ by working to enforce any and all necessary measures to avoid complacency- particularly as it pertains to the youth population — a target group rising on a national level.

From this report, five key initiatives were identified as the cornerstone for all community programs to be implemented:

1.  Develop an anti-stigma campaign that encourages persons addicted to opioids to seek treatment

2.  Need to establish effective public education strategies and emphasize prevention and early intervention

3.  Provide professional support and assistance at the point of contact for individuals who overdose on opiates

4.  Form a community agency collaborative to collect data and improve coordination of services

5.  Improve prevention and early intervention efforts with children, youth and families

In conclusion, the study showed that local opioid abuse was on the rise; that more prevention tactics were essential across each age group; and that the success-oriented culture of Greenwich concealed the extent of the problems facing the community-at-large.

“People deny it’s a problem until it’s a problem for them,” said Alan Barry, Department of Human Services Commissioner.

“Opioid abuse is a disease and we encourage people to seek treatment,” said Barry.

Also emanating out of the report was the necessity to re-form the moribund Greenwich Prevention Council whereby Barry and Police Chief James Heavey are collaborating as co-chairs.

“Last year, we had 17 overdoses and five of these were fatal, so Greenwich is not immune to the opioid crisis,” said Police Chief James Heavey.

The Prevention Council, who held its first re-instatement meeting back in January had 25 attendees representing key constituents from the public and private school sector, human service agencies, Greenwich United Way and Greenwich Hospital.

Their overarching mandate is to prevent and reduce substance abuse through targeted public awareness campaigns and community programs, heavily focused on youth, where an evidence-based prevention framework will be implemented.

“We have to do less lecturing and provide simple messages to the community about things they can do such as talking more carefully with their doctors when opiates are prescribed and disposing of unused pills,” said Barry.

This seems to already be taking affect as the designated drop-box for unused prescription pills at the Greenwich Police Department has been filled to capacity for the past few months – up to 30 pounds of unused pills that luckily will not ‘get medically diverted’ into the wrong hands.

Chief Heavey stated that the police department is working in conjunction with the CT Police Chiefs Association (CPCA) on a new educational program for eighth-graders to best prepare them as they transition to the high school.

The GPD has also designated a special Detective Sergeant and task force charged specifically with narcotic enforcement.

The Prevention Council will work specifically to develop a 5-year $500,000 state grant that will support focused, municipal-based alcohol, tobacco and other drug prevention initiatives -with the support of senior elected officials.

The Prevention Council identified the critical need for a comprehensive data collection process to develop a baseline.

This includes pertinent health information as well as that of both parents and students from all public/private schools in seventh grade and up — in order to truly understand the needs of the community.

A sub-committee was formed to gather the appropriate school data and all schools have been quite cooperative. The next step is to receive approval from the Board of Education which Barry said should result in a quick turn-around.

“Understanding local attitudes and behaviors such as the degree and extent of substance abuse or mental health issues should dictate our strategy at the council in order to develop better, more effective programs,” said Barry.

When asked if students would be truly forthcoming, Barry said that all surveys were anonymous.

When asked what Tesei would like to see occur over the next three months, he said that the top priority is to keep Greenwich residents informed on the opioid situation in town.

“I would like to see the survey developed and disseminated in partnership with all our community stakeholders,” said Tesei.

“My goal is to save lives and remove the stigma surrounding addiction.”

A few weeks ago, the Sentinel reported that Orthopaedic & Neurosurgery Specialists (ONS) is also taking an active part in preventing opioid abuse in Greenwich through patient education; incorporating changes in their medical protocol and implementing new surgical techniques aimed at decreasing one’s level of pain post-surgery in order to minimize the use of opioids or even eliminate the use for them at all.

To view the report, “Starting the Conversation: An Inside Look at Opioid Use in Greenwich, Connecticut,” visit Greenwichct.org.

For information on treatment services, please visit Greenwichhospital.org or Liberationprorams.org.

About Author: Michelle Moskowitz

Michelle Moskowitz is a reporter and ambassador for the Greenwich Sentinel. Ms. Moskowitz has an extensive background in media serving as the head of LIFETIME Television’s new media division, covering events and news stories all over the country. She was also VP of Business Development at BestSelections.com, Senior Manager at Young & Rubicam, and ran her own boutique Internet firm with a focus on content development. Ms. Moskowitz has been living in the Greenwich community for over a decade. She graduated from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. Email: michelle@greenwichsentinel.com

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