|Paul Lundquist, president of the Harrison Group, a strategic marketing and research firm approached town leaders with the offer to initiate a survey and clarify residents’ opinions regarding Fairfield Hills. That was the plan.As with many plans, it graduated to topics such as residential development, traffic issues, schools’ infrastructure, tax levels, even Lyme disease. Of paramount importance was the town government’s ability to develop a plan for the Newtown’s future.The second biggest concern was what piqued the interest of The Newtown Parent Connection. Two-thirds of those surveyed felt that substance abuse among youth is one of the biggest problems facing Newtown.
Mr. Lundquist felt, “If it is not a problem, we should not perpetuate the idea. However, if it is, then we should not sweep it under the carpet.” The Newtown Parent Connection could not agree more.
The Newtown Parent Connection has been at the forefront of the substance abuse controversy. In conjunction with the Harrison Group’s survey, the Parent Connection recently presented the forum, “Dare To Discuss Drugs III: The Recent Facts”
The evening’s facilitator was Liz Driscoll Jorgensen, CADC.
Adding background and anecdotal information was a panel consisting of Beth Agen, executive director of Newtown Youth & Family Services; Scott Clayton, assistant principal of Newtown High School; Judy Blanchard, district health coordinator for the Newtown Public Schools and co-chair of the Newtown Prevention Council; Officer Dominic Costello, student resource officer for the Newtown High and Middle Schools; and two youth participants who are recovering substance abusers.
There was agreement across the board that “binge” drinking (defined as five or more standard, one-ounce serving of alcohol per episode for males and four or more for females) was a prevalent problem in Newtown. Connecticut is currently number one in the nation for incidents of binge drinking, running neck and neck with Marin County, Calif.
An emerging trend that has not been well studied or communicated to the public is the fact that there has also been a dramatic rise in the rate of overdose deaths in young people and adults to the age of 44 during the past ten years. Not inconsequential is the fact that the CDC changed categorization from “overdose” to “poisoning.”
Synthetic opiates are readily available. A trip to a friend’s house or grandparents’ medicine cabinet is all it takes.
“Last year in the United States there were 32,000 deaths from ‘poisonings’ in ages 18 to 44, second only to traffic deaths at 44,000.” Prior to the reporting change, there were approximately 3,800 poisonings a year. Now there are 32,000.
Kids who would never touch a street drug think there is little issue with taking prescription drugs, feeling they are “safer.”
“The worst offenders are Oxycontin, Oxycodone, Hydrocodone, Vicodin, and Codeine,” said Ms. Jorgensen. Many deaths in young people come from combinations of these opiates and alcohol. “These synthetic opiates are ‘heroin in a pill’ to the body,” Ms Jorgensen affirmed.
Ms Agen felt strongly that, “If there is one child in Newtown who has a problem, it is everyone’s problem.”
“Newtown,” she added, “is no better or worse than a demographically similar town in Connecticut. Each has its own set of issues. Anecdotally, I would say ours are binge drinking and heroin.”
Two youth panelists’ comments would bear that out in what may have been the most compelling part of the evening. Panelist #1 is a recovering addict and alcoholic.
At 16, he began to drink and use pot. He craved attention and happiness and was really anti-drug. He played baseball and pursued that path in college where he experimented with cocaine and Oxycontin, which quickly took hold.
After a relatively short period of time, that was not enough for him and he moved to heroin. It was easier to obtain and much cheaper. He dropped out of school; had “a hundred different stories and excuses.”
He sold drugs to support his habit. “It was the basis of my life,” he said. In early 2004, he was arrested and went to jail, where he said he “became very creative and came out heavily involved. I believed I was just hurting myself. I loved the feeling of getting high. I hit a lot of bottoms. I lost all my friends. It was just me and my dog.”
Early in 2007, Panelist #1 got fired from his job and became tired of what he was doing.
“A lot of friends I used with are dead now.” January 30, 2007, was the date his sobriety began and he has been sober since then. “It was the greatest accomplishment of my life!”
Panelist #2, like her male counterpart, grew up in Newtown. She had a really strong hatred for alcohol. “It was the last thing I wanted.”
A straight A student, athlete, with many friends and religious involvement was not enough. She got bored with her life and began smoking marijuana.
“I loved it from the minute I tried it,” she said. Then, she began to drink at parties.
“The marijuana was not cutting it. I needed a higher, bigger rush.” She became a heavy drinker.
In her junior year in high school she had back-to-back periods off and she left school to get high. She stole alcohol from neighbors.
“I thought I was OK. I still went to school, worked, got straight A’s, but was always high.” Labor Day weekend 2004 she took a whole bottle of Xanax and drove her car into a tree.
Her parents insisted she attend support groups, which she did. She would do what they wanted but she would still use and still meet with old friends.
On November 28, 2004, she took the family car, went to a party, drank on the way to the party and drank there. She left the party at 4:30 am and was arrested on her way home.
It was at this point that she realized what she had become. She was tired of lying, cheating, and stealing. Panelist #2 went to college, works two jobs, and attends support groups.
“It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it!” she said.
The audience was reminded that parental involvement is the #1 prevention strategy the panelists agreed: know your kids’ friends; know their parents; know where they are and who they are with; and stay involved; eat together as a family as many nights as you can; supervise teen social events/parties; do not serve alcohol to teens; ask questions; call those who are hosting a party.
“Ask questions. This may embarrass your child, but it may also save a life. Parenting is not pestering,” Ms. Blanchard reminded, “It’s your job.”
Ms. Jorgensen said, “You may just have to be the sand in the oyster,” referring to that parent who makes the call. “Talk with your child; not at your child,” she concluded. “Avail yourself of resources and be there for your child.”