The heroin epidemic is a crisis that is crippling towns and cities in every corner of Connecticut.
“These people that are selling this stuff are like the Grim Reaper because it’s death in a dose,” Poquonnock Bridge Fire Department Chief Joe Winski said.
For firefighters in his department, responding to heroin overdoses in Groton has become part of their routine.
“We’re in the trenches here,” Chief Winski said. “The men are becoming very fatigued. They see death on a regular basis.”
Two weeks ago on Friday, Winski said his department responded to three overdoes within an hour and a half: two people survived, the third did not.
“The potency of what’s on the street is pretty bad right now,” Winski said, “it’s being laced with fentanyl and who knows what else. It’s not like you’re taking a prescribed drug that you were addicted to.”
The frequency of needing to administer Narcan to save lives is increasing, Winski said. His department began using the opiate antidote late last year.
“We have this euphoria of success for a very short period because the chances are we’ll be back,” he said.
There is nothing more frustrating, Winski said, than returning to the same address to find the same person suffering from another overdose.
“Now we see a glimmer of hope,” Winski said. “Because at least we are getting an idea and a direction that we can send people to.”
Poquonnock Bridge firefighters are now handing out to family members cards with contact information for Community Speaks Out, an organization trying to stop the stigma of addiction and put people on the path to recovery.
“Once the family learns how to deal with addiction,” Groton Town Council member Joe de la Cruz said, “We’ve had great success getting those folks the help they need.”
Joe and his wife Tammy de la Cruz are part of Community Speaks Out. The group hosts public forums on treating addiction, supplies families with drug testing kits and has raised money to send 31 people to rehab.
“This is America’s Katrina,” de la Cruz said of the heroin epidemic. “It really is.”
For de la Cruz, this mission is personal. His 24-year-old stepson has battled a Percocet addiction since after high school.
“Right now everything is pretty good,” he said, “you know, he’s been opiate free since August.”
Often times, those who become hooked on prescription pain killers later become addicted to heroin.
Both de la Cruz and Chief Winski told NBC Connecticut the state should restore cuts and increase funding for mental health and addiction services.