WATERBURY, Conn. (WTNH) — President Obama has declared this Prescription Opioid and Heroin Epidemic Awareness Week because of the national opioid epidemic. It’s also a problem in Connecticut.
The Waterbury community came together Wednesday night to talk about the opioid problem. The Heroin and Opioid Awareness Conference was for parents and educators. They heard from doctors and parents who lost a child to addiction.
Gina Mattei’s son Louis was just 23 years old when he died from a fentanyl overdose in February. It’s still hard for her to talk about it. Mattei believes her son didn’t know it was fentanyl and not heroin that he was taking. He was not a regular drug user, but after he had a tooth pulled the month before, he looked for something to help with the pain.
“He was the type of person that no one would believe this could happen to, and it happened to him,” Mattei said.
The conference brought law enforcement, experts and families of overdose victims to educate the community. They talked about recognizing signs of drug addiction and teen drug abuse.
“I think the primary focus should be prevention,” said Deirdre Daly, U.S. Attorney, District of Connecticut. “We cannot arrest ourselves out of this problem.”
Since prescription pills are often the gateway drug to heroin, they discussed the importance of keeping them away from teens. Opioid abuse is becoming more and more common. There have been more than 100 overdoses in Waterbury alone this year, and that’s changed the way police handle overdoses.
“All overdoses now are considered crime scenes, so now we have the opportunity to bring charges against the people involved who are distributing the narcotics,” said Waterbury Police Chief Vernon Riddick.
The dealer who sold Mattei’s son the fentanyl was charged. Now Mattei wants to make sure other families don’t have to go through what hers did.
“It’s destroyed our family, it’s destroyed us. But we have to go on. He would want us to go on,” said Mattei.
The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner expects about 900 people in Connecticut to die from overdoses this year, and about half from fentanyl.