OPINION: A problem gripping the nation grips our community, too

OPINION: A problem gripping the nation grips our community, too

This week I attended a meeting at which Ken Welch, the president of the Coalition for a Better Wallingford, spoke and described an upcoming event that his organization is holding. After hearing Ken describe both the event and its purpose, I knew I had a subject to write about that we all must absolutely come to grips with: the scourge of drug addiction in our community. And that certainly includes the author of this piece.

I freely admit that I have come late to the table to acknowledge just how pervasive this problem is in our community. I have known full well that Ken and the organization he and his family began seven years ago have been working tirelessly to “raise awareness” of this issue. I put those two words in quotes because it is an overused phrase, and because Ken has done far, far more than just raise awareness. He and his troops have been raising the rooftops trying to get us here in our town to look within ourselves and admit that this problem was not some faraway problem some other community was dealing with. But I, like all too many, just couldn’t connect the dots between what we love about our community and the possibility that we too, right in our midst, have a genuine problem — a problem that is now gripping the nation.

So that’s my confession, and it is time that this column does its part to help. The event I wish to publicize is a Narcan Training and Dispensing program, to be held at the Coalition’s facility at 136 Center St. on Thursday, September 19, from 6:30 to 7:30 pm. At the event, anyone who attends will be trained on how to properly dispense Naloxone (aka Narcan) to someone experiencing a potentially deadly drug overdose and will also be given two doses to take to their home or business.

There will also be a discussion about another very awkward subject: the increase in suicide taking place both in our community and elsewhere. That, too, is taking place all too frequently right in Wallingford, and it is often connected to the drug addiction scourge.

When I spoke with Ken Welch about this column, I was going to contrast the wonderful, happy events, like the upcoming Celebrate Wallingford, with the discouraging news about the drug problem in our midst. But Ken was very quick to say “Steve, there is a positive aspect to all this.”

The good news is: Wallingford gets it. It took years of hard work on Ken’s part and others’, but he told me that our town is on board, that our town is not averting its eyes, that the Coalition for a Better Wallingford now has many willing and active partners in its work. This most certainly includes Town of Wallingford departments: Youth and Social Services, Health, Police, Fire, Education, and the Mayor’s Council on Substance Abuse Prevention, as well as many other social service organizations too numerous to mention.

To further prove this point, Ken pointed out that there are 40 organizations such as his throughout the State of Connecticut. All but Wallingford are receiving $125,000 grants from the state and feds through the Drug Free Community Act. The Coalition earns its financial support from its own fundraisers, from the Town of Wallingford and from private donations. Because his organization has been actively supported by the people of Wallingford, it is able to remain independent and able to tailor all its efforts to dealing with the specific needs of the people in our town. Additionally, they are freed from the complex set of strings attached to these state and federal grants. Anyone who has dealt with these entanglements will understand what an advantage that is.

To quote Ken, “Wallingford has become a very responsive community.” He gave me another example of that: his organization held a vigil on Saturday, August 31, and 100-150 people attended. He mentioned a similar vigil held in a neighboring town recently. Six people showed up there.

All this effort by so many is starting to have an impact. Ken told me that the deaths among people 30 or younger are way, way down from just six years ago. That is very encouraging and indicates that the more efforts aimed at educating young people, the better the results. The Coalition is now teaming up with organizations involved in early childhood development to build better values and better behaviors among the parents of young children.

Ken Welch has certainly opened my eyes. He now invites everyone in Wallingford to come to his September 19 event to be trained in perhaps saving someone else’s life. As he suggests, you would be amazed at who that person may be. All of this is closer to home than many of us wanted to believe. Now we know better.

Stephen Knight is a former Wallingford town councilor.