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The heroin epidemic that has gripped most of the south, Midwest, and parts of New England like Maine and Vermont has now hit my home state of Connecticut with a vengeance and it is making up for lost time.

Over the past month or so, the southeastern corner and northern central parts of Connecticut have been flooded with the drug, resulting in over 20 plus heroin overdoses resulting in 3 deaths. What makes this even more terrifying is that these overdoses were caused by a tainted batch of heroin laced with Fentanyl, which is becoming an increasing factor in Connecticut overdose deaths.

While our neighbors to the north and south have been dealing with the heroin epidemic for a few years now, the way in which it has seemingly slammed Connecticut like a tidal wave in the last two years has left the state reeling and extremely unprepared. Heroin related deaths in Connecticut have tripled since 2014 and show no signs of slowing down; in 2015 there were 273 fatal overdoses from heroin.

You would think with that many people dying from heroin that the state would have sprung into action and put some type of plan in place right? Perhaps declare a public health emergency like they did in October 2014 when they suspected nine people of having the Ebola virus? But no, nothing was done.

 

Ebola Matters, but Addiction Doesn’t

Let’s go back to the suspected Ebola virus incident for a moment. When Governor Dan Malloy declared the public health emergency, this gave the state Department of Public Health commissioner the authority to quarantine and isolate people whom the commissioner reasonably believed had been exposed to the Ebola virus. Keep in mind that this wasn’t in response to a specific case, the governor just wanted to make sure that the state was prepared. With the declaration of emergency, it allowed local health officials to have a more coordinated response in the event that someone tested positive for Ebola or was at risk for developing it.

Now I’m not advocating for heroin users to be quarantined, but if the state went to all that trouble for a suspected nine people, why wouldn’t it do something similar for known heroin overdose deaths? In other words, the governor thought there might be a chance that nine people, NINE, might have a deadly disease so he declared a public health emergency, but when presented with the facts that 273 people did in fact die from the deadly disease of heroin addiction, NOTHING WAS DONE. How could this be?!

I’ll tell you why…stigma. You see, even though more people have generally come to accept that addiction is a disease, a lot of people still think of it as a choice or a moral failing. As a result, many government officials, feeling beholden to their constituents, adopt that same attitude and are slow to commit funding or change public policy to accurately reflect and treat addiction as a disease.

I can guarantee you that if 273 people had died from Ebola last year we would have all types of public health emergencies being declared, state and federal funding; as well as top health experts from around the world here to help get the situation under control. But because those deaths were caused from addiction, the community and government effectively turned their backs on the problem and went on with their lives.

 

Advocates Make Some Noise

That was, until about a month ago, when you couldn’t turn on the news or read a paper here without seeing a story or headline about another overdose or death. And you know who started “banging the drum” and making the most noise so that people paid attention and didn’t turn their backs like they did last time? The addiction advocates.

These amazing people contacted local news channels and papers, held vigils outside of police stations, and held multiple forums until the local government could not ignore them anymore. They got everyone from the governor, local police departments in the areas hardest hit, to senators in Washington to sit down and try and come up with a plan to do something!

I am proud to say that these people, who lost loved ones to the disease of addiction or were fortunate enough to see them get to and stay in recovery, took the lead in making the community and its leaders pay attention. They refused to sit quietly by and watch more people die because they know the pain and struggle involved; they demanded that something be done and now something is being done.

Unfortunately we are still experiencing deaths from the disease, but we are also seeing an unprecedented amount of media coverage being paid as well and as a result more people are coming out of the shadows, sharing their stories and asking for help. Because of the passion and dedication of these advocates, of which I am one, I am proud to say that we are spreading the word about addiction here in Connecticut and working as hard as we can to ensure that as many people as possible get the help that they and their families so desperately need.

Sometime in the near future, I want to be able to say that my state no longer has a heroin or addiction epidemic and work with other states around the country to help them say the same.

Nadine Herring is a virtual assistant and owner of Virtually Nadine, an online administrative support company. She is also a blogger that specializes in writing about addiction from the family perspective and community building & organizing. She is a family addiction advocate, community activist, Boston Celtics fan, runner, and owner of a small animal kingdom consisting of 2 dogs and 3 cats (all rescues).

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