EDITORIAL: Wallingford group warned of looming opioid crisis in 2012

EDITORIAL: Wallingford group warned of looming opioid crisis in 2012


The Coalition for a Better Wallingford has been around for five years now, and on Tuesday plans to hold a “community conversation” with several town departments and organizations to talk about new initiatives to combat opioid addiction.

The coalition, from its office on Center Street, provides preventative information and outreach for substance abuse and helps people struggling with addiction find help and resources. It was founded in 2012 by Ken Welch and Jennifer Short after their 20-year-old daughter, Taylor Short, died from an overdose.

But beyond lauding these parents for working through their grief to make a positive contribution to the community, this seems like a good time to note how right they were about this new and growing scourge on society — the juggernaut of opiate use and abuse that has ravaged so many other communities in our state and country.

This involves drugs legitimately prescribed, as well as prescription medications that have been diverted to other uses, as well as heroin bought on the street. This effort took courage on the part of the founders of the coalition, as well as vision to see a looming crisis that so many failed to see, back in 2012.

“When we started talking about this problem five years ago, it was pure denial and we were viewed as the redheaded stepchild in town, and that’s totally changed,” Welch said. “The problem’s been embraced.”

Wallingford had 15 deaths attributable to heroin or other opioid overdoses in 2016, a big increase over previous years. Meriden suffered 24 such deaths, and Southington eight. That same year, Connecticut saw 504 deaths from heroin overdoses, 479 from fentanyl (a much stronger substance), and 110 from oxycodone.

Many people start by receiving medications such as oxycodone, generally for chronic pain, and then become addicted. But when the prescription runs out, it’s cheaper to seek street heroin — which more and more often is being mixed with fentanyl.

According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, overprescribing of opioids “is a key driver of America’s drug-overdose epidemic.”

In Wallingford, Police Chief William Wright said the coalition has helped combat the opioid problem by removing the stigma of addiction and “channeling that energy toward prevention and successful treatment.” “The fact that someone is addicted to opioids doesn’t make them a bad person by any means,” he said.

By focusing public attention of the problem of opioid abuse in their community, Ken Welch and Jennifer Short have made a positive difference. And the town’s contribution of $15,000 toward the cost of maintaining the coalition’s office looks like money well spent.

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