Substance abuse doesn’t discriminate.
That’s the message Trumbull’s Drug Prevention Task Force would like all members of the community to take away from the upcoming Trumbull Shares: A Panel Presentation on Substance Abuse, scheduled for Tuesday, April 26.
“Whether it’s a parent or a sibling looking for more information for a loved one, or a friend or a co-worker who is concerned about someone they know, there needs to be more resources available for them to help prevent the spread of abuse and addiction and more awareness toward the problem that our community faces,” said police Chief Michael Lombardo, who is co-chairing Trumbull Shares with Superintendent of Schools Dr. Gary Cialfi. “Anybody can be affected by this — it doesn’t matter where you’re from. …
“That’s why we’re going to have tables, because we want people who come to have the resources available to take home that night and tap into them right away,” he said. “The goal of this group is to bring awareness and bring as many services as possible to people. That’s why we have a solid range of speakers from a wide spectrum of disciplines that can give information to people and have people tap into resources that evening.”
The discussion, which will include speeches from addiction specialist John Hamilton and TPAUD chairwoman Melissa McGarry among others, will be held at the McClinch Family Center, 210 Shelton Road in Trumbull, located behind St. Catherine of Siena Parish.
The center doors open at 6:30 p.m., with the resource fair kicking things off and the presentation following at 7. There is no charge for admission, and it is open to the public.
Since the task force was initiated by First Selectman Tim Herbst in the summer of 2015, it has evolved into a coalition of local groups that have come together for a similar cause — ending the “epidemic” of substance abuse and addiction that Trumbull and the rest of Fairfield County has seen rise over the last decade.
“Hopefully, this is the beginning of a series that happens quarterly or several times of a year,” said Lynn Arnow, the first selectman’s chief of staff. “This panel is on substance abuse, but we’d like to have another soon about mental health and wellness and keep evolving from there.”
While the coalition would like Trumbull students to attend, the resource fair is targeted to people of all ages and all relationships.
“It’s a rapidly growing concern in every community, however difficult it might be to say or admit,” Arnow said. “But the reality is that nobody wants to have it in their town. The purpose of this event is to outreach and educate people and get resources out there that can help those who are in need but might not willing to admit it or seek help.
“Whether it’s the family member or an employer, that person can get information and learn how to help someone that’s troubled by this crisis,” she said.
While Chief Lombardo acknowledges that the use of opiates like prescription pills and heroin has risen in town and Fairfield County over the last five to seven years, he and EMS Chief Joe Laucella want the resource fair to address some misconceptions that happen whenever there’s a fatal accident or a situation that results in transportation to a local hospital.
“People assume a lot of times, they make assumptions, that some sort of opiate, or heroin, is involved, when, in reality, we don’t know at that given point in time if it’s substance-related or not,” Laucella said. “You hear part of a dispatch or hear some others in the community talking and sometimes we’re not even aware of the specific outcome or the cause of the event.”
Both leaders realize it’s hard to preach patience when drugs and alcohol abuse are lingering and spreading at rapid rates; however, prevention begins with a conversation — not with unfair labeling.
“This is something that encompasses all ages of the community — the whole community needs to be involved in the process and we need to stick together or otherwise it won’t work,” said Laucella.
“From an EMS and police standpoint, we want to attack this locally, regionally and federally,” Lombardo added, recognizing that Trumbull’s three state representatives will be in attendance on April 26.
“They’re working really hard up in Hartford,” Arnow said. “They have eight pieces of legislation this year that aim to address this concern.”
Open lines of communication
Elsewhere in the community, Trumbull High School Principal Marc Guarino and crisis intervention specialist Bill Mecca believe that education is one of the best avenues to prevention.
“There are opportunities across our curriculum that address these issues, but we’re always looking to improve,” Guarino said.
One of those ways is making sure that parents — the front-line defense — are involved in the process and are evolving in the way they address these substance abuse problems.
“Not every line of communication between every kid and every parent is broken,” the THS principal said. “But it is an epidemic, and there are different entry points into that conversation.
“It’s all about reinforcing the importance of making appropriate decisions and establishing that the lines of communication are always open whenever a child needs to talk to a parent.”
The most vulnerable
Charting current students’ behaviors at the high school is easy.
The difficult part of the process is tracking Trumbull’s youth as they enter college or the professional world as young twentysomethings.
Mecca believes — and Trumbull Health Department Director Rhonda Capuano’s data reinforces — that the most vulnerable age bracket in Trumbull, as well as in the rest of the United States, is 18 to 25.
In fact, a national survey on drug use and health that was produced in 2014 revealed that the rate of substance dependence or abuse among adults in that 18-25 window is 16.3% — the highest of any age range. Comparably, for ages 12 through 17, the rate decreased from 8.9% to 5% from 2002 to 2014.
“Once the structure of the high school day is no longer driving their lives and therefore they have more freedom and flexibility and they rely on the fact they can make more decisions independently, it ends up accelerating issues that might have already been there, especially when they’re living on a university campus and they’re living around their peers,” Mecca said. “And they’re not being educated in a sober environment, or at least far from it.
“Things tend to get worse when the safety net of the school day and school resources — or the structure of the school day — exit,” he added. “That’s where the role of the community is so important. We need to have resources available and accessible to all our residents, the ones who are here and the ones who might be away at school.”
Echoing Arnow and Lombardo’s analysis, the Trumbull father said that substance abuse and addiction wasn’t just a Trumbull issue.
“It’s all over the country,” he said.
But how will the town go about addressing the needs of the most vulnerable when only a small sample of them are informally gauged through conversations with former teachers?
“Ideally, the community can give them or those close to them the mental health counseling resources that they need,” Mecca said.
The coalition is a continuum of the Regional Primary Action Group.
Members of the Trumbull coalition include the Board of Education, the police department, Emergency Medical Services, Health and Social Services, the Mary J. Sherlach Counseling Center, and the Trumbull Partnership Against Underage Drinking and Drugs (TPAUD).
The coalition is enhanced by the participation of several local professional organizations that specialize in addiction and rehabilitation, including Community Addiction & Recovery Education & Support (CARES), Regional Youth Adult Social Action Partnership (RYASAP), Healthy Communities, and the Southwestern Regional Mental Health Board.
The 45-minute program will include presentations from addiction specialist John Hamilton of Recovery Network Programs, Trumbull police, CARES, TPAUD, a young adult in recovery, a surviving parent, a pain management specialist, and a health care access specialist. Local statistics on drug and substance usage will be reviewed.
“This forum is an opportunity for everyone — new parents, youth and teen parents, young adults, grandparents, professionals, employers, anyone — to learn about drug and alcohol addiction, including opiates, and connect with a host of resources that offer guidance, support and treatment options,” said Herbst. “Our country is seeing a rapidly growing drug epidemic that is taking lives and affecting families and loved ones.
“Awareness, education, and an open dialogue are key to keeping our community healthy.”