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Montville vigil offers comfort, support for those struggling with addiction

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Montville — Holding candles that flickered in the breeze, relatives and friends who lost loved ones to addiction bowed their heads and called out the names of the dead at a vigil Thursday evening.

"Presenté!" singer Sue Frankewicz responded after every name to indicate the spiritual presence of the dead.

Walter Sikorski of Norwich held up a cardboard sign that said, "Stop Heroin Please," as about 55 people gathered in a shopping plaza parking lot on Route 32 during a vigil organized by Community Speaks Out in response to the continued overdose deaths in Montville and throughout the region.

Town Mayor Ronald K. McDaniel took the microphone and shared for the first time in public his own family's struggle.

"We need to de-stigmatize the whole thing," McDaniel said. "I'm going to confess something for the first time. I lost a brother decades ago. We didn't talk about it as a family. We were ashamed."

Later, the mayor said his brother had died in his 30s of a drug overdose but he did not know the exact cause of death.

The vigil was organized to bring comfort to those who are mourning, but more importantly, said founding member Joe de la Cruz, to get help for those who need it.

"I don't want anyone to leave here tonight if they need help," said de la Cruz, of Groton, who also is a newly elected state representative for the 41st District. The group, which he formed with his wife, Tammy de la Cruz, and others, has helped get 120 people into treatment since it formed a year ago. De la Cruz's son, Joey Gingerella, who has struggled with addiction to pain pills, stood nearby looking healthy.

At a nearby table, Community Speaks Out member Allan Selserman handed out Narcan kits after training people how to use them. The opioid overdose-reversal drug, carried by first responders and now available to members of the public who might be in a position to save a life, have been in high demand. 

"If your child or loved one is getting out of jail or rehab, you need to go see Allan," de la Cruz said. Opioid users who take the drug after being clean for a period of time are at extreme risk of overdose because their tolerance has decreased.

Selserman of Waterford was one of the people who called out the name of a lost loved one. He and his wife, Lynne, lost their son, 22-year-old Jordan, to a fatal overdose on Oct. 17, 2008.

In Montville, many families have buried children in recent years.

"I have immediate family that has been affected by heroin specifically," said 22-year-old Rachael Cuff. "It is a demon that wants to take you down."

Cuff, who named off a few young men she knows who had died, said coming together in fellowship was "key" to healing, because people who are suffering tend to isolate themselves.

Kelli Wright, whose partner, Michael J. Turner, died last year as a result of his drug addiction, wore a hooded sweatshirt with angel wings on the back. The shirt read, "A piece of my heart lives in heaven." She said she gets hopeful that people have stopped using heroin when she doesn't hear anything about it for a while.

"But then you read about someone young who 'died unexpectedly' and you know you're wrong," she said. 

The William W. Backus Hospital had two fatalities, on Nov. 19 and Nov. 26, that appeared to be heroin overdoses, according to Shawn Mawhiney, director of communications. There was an additional fatal overdose at the hospital's emergency care center in Plainfield on Nov. 26.

Lawrence + Memorial Hospital had surpassed last year's overdose numbers by September, according to Michael O'Farrell, director of public relations. In 2015, the hospital had a total of 111 cases. From January to September of this year, the hospital treated 141 people who had overdosed. Last weekend, the hospital had two overdose patients. The figures provided by O'Farrell do not indicate how many patients died.

Many of the recent overdoses have been attributed to the presence of fentanyl, a powerful opioid, in batches of heroin. The state Office of the Chief Medical Examiner has predicted the number of deaths attributed to fentanyl will more than double.  

The U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday passed health and addiction bill that includes $1 billion to improve state prescription monitoring programs, prevention activities, training for those who prescribe opioids and treatment programs.


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