Fitch students hear sobering facts at addiction presentation

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Groton — Lacy Dunn sat on the stage in the auditorium at Robert E. Fitch Senior High School Friday morning with a blown up photograph of a beautiful blond woman. 

"Catherine. BFF. Sister," the photo said.

Catherine Dunn was just 18 when she died of a heroin overdose on Dec. 28, 2009, and her sister, who lives in Groton, was taking part in a presentation of Community Speaks Out, a local nonprofit group working to help families of addicts and provide prevention and education programs.

Lacy Dunn said she wanted the Fitch students to know that her sister Catherine was just like them.

"There's the stigma of addicts as poor people, homeless people," Dunn said. "But she was just like these kids. She went to St. Bernard (High School). She wanted to be a veterinarian. She was from the middle class."

The juniors and seniors in the audience were silent throughout the presentation, an indication, said Dean of Students Adam Diskin, that they were "very receptive" to the message.

Community Speaks Out had organized the program to convey the message that the best choice is to never try drugs, but that there is hope and help for those who are addicted or have addicted family members.

Community Speaks Out founder Joe de la Cruz, whose son Joey Gingerella was a gifted baseball player at Fitch just a few years ago, told the assembly of his new understanding of addiction since he and his wife, Tammy, learned that Joey had become addicted to prescription pills.

The family struggled to get Joey into a rehabilitation program, but he went, and he is now doing better, according to his parents.

"I knew kids that did cocaine in school and crack cocaine," Joe de la Cruz said. "But the drugs you guys face are much stronger than the drugs we faced in the past."

De la Cruz told the students that eight people died from overdoses in Groton in 2015, nine in New London, seven in Stonington, four in Voluntown, eight in Norwich and six in Montville.

He said he now calls addicts patients, just as they would be called if they had cancer, and that Community Speaks Out is working with former Fitch students who are living in motels, committing robberies and selling themselves to feed their addictions.

"I hear from person after person, 'The minute I tried it, I knew my life was different,' '' de la Cruz said.

Kathleen Dufficy and Kelly Barrett, both of Griswold, sat on stage with photographs of 32-year-old Matthew Barrett, their son and brother, respectively.

His mother said Matthew, who struggled with addiction for approximately 12 years, lost his battle on Nov. 23, 2015, dying from injuries he received in a Nov. 14 car crash while driving under the influence of drugs.

Barrett's family is planning a walk and fundraiser in Matthew's memory on Sept. 24 at Veterans Park in Jewett City.

At the podium, Kim Sullivan of North Franklin delivered a harrowing account of her son Benjamin Comparone's struggle with addiction. He started smoking marijuana in junior high school and at some point was introduced to opiate pills, Sullivan said.

When ingesting the pills by mouth was not enough, he began snorting them, she said. The next step was cooking up the pills and smoking them, and heroin was his final, and fatal, drug of choice.

Her smart, funny, loving boy became somebody she didn't know, selling his belongings for money, Sullivan said. She had drug dealers with guns in her home, threatening to kill her son. He overdosed and nearly died several times, then got clean and relapsed again.

In 2015, after four years of sobriety, he relapsed and died from an overdose. He was 26, engaged to be married, father of a young son with another child on the way.

"Life is full of choices," Sullivan told the students.

She asked them, when making choices about drugs, to first picture their mother holding their cold, dead hand and kissing their cold, dead forehead, as she did with her son.

Also speaking Friday was Greg Williams, a Connecticut native who has been in recovery for 14 years, since he was 17 years old. Williams is the producer of a documentary film, "The Anonymous People," and involved in an emerging national movement to bring the recovery movement into the open and do away with the stigma.

"The life we experience on the other side of chemicals is far more fulfilling and satisfying," Williams said.

For information on Community Speaks Out programs, go to www.communityspeaksout.org.

k.florin@theday.com

Twitter: @KFLORIN 

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