Heroin crisis hits home

Troubling news, reported in The Day on Sunday and Monday, that heroin deaths and abuse have risen dramatically in the region as part of a nationwide trend underscores the need for more effective education, prevention and treatment strategies.

The articles ("Heroin, a tragic wrong turn" and "Drugs, death don't discriminate," published Sunday, April 27; and "Doctors say heroin treatment is available," published Monday, April 28) are the first in an occasional series that highlight alarming statistics: New London County's heroin-related overdose deaths rose nearly 48 percent from 23 to 34 last year, the same percentage increase across Connecticut.

In addition, records show heroin was a contributing factor in 257 accidental overdose deaths in Connecticut last year, compared to 174 in 2012.

While no single factor can be blamed for this growing crisis, it's clear that a rise in prescription drug abuse has led many addicts to turn to heroin, which has become less expensive and more readily available. Doctors must explain to patients more forcefully the risks of taking such highly addictive and expensive prescription painkillers as Oxycontin, Percocet and Vicodin; patients must be more diligent about taking such medicine only as prescribed and properly disposing of unused pills.

Because developing a better understanding of any problem is an important step toward correcting it, this newspaper is encouraged that prescription drug abuse will be discussed at Lawrence + Memorial Hospital in New London this morning during a meeting organized by the Ledge Light Health District.

While it's always better to deal with a problem before it becomes a crisis, we also understand that urgent situations demand emergency responses.

Such is the situation with overdoses of heroin and other opiods.

While there are always risks when non-medical personnel dispense medication we support laws that protect family members and others from liability when they administer the antidote naloxone to overdose victims.

We're pleased that Connecticut is among more than a dozen states with such laws and encourage the General Assembly to expand use of the antidote, especially now that the Federal Drug Administration has approved a new device designed to administer it more easily, effectively and safely.

Antidote application, though, should be the last-ditch component of any narcotics program. Parents, law-enforcement authorities, teachers and counselors must continue to focus on keeping people from abusing drugs in the first place.

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