Addressing Substance Abuse– Parent Connection Offers Newtown A Dose Of Reality

Newtown Bee BY Larissa Lytwyn

The Parent Connection, a newly re-formed group of local parents committed to raising drug and alcohol abuse awareness and prevention in Newtown, recently met with administrative officials including First Selectman Herb Rosenthal, Superintendent of Schools Evan Pitkoff, and the assistant principal of Newtown High School, Jules Triber, to discuss the group’s goals in the upcoming school year.

“We will be holding an open forum for families to come and discuss their concerns [about drugs] Wednesday, September 24, from 7 to 9 pm, in the Newtown Middle School auditorium,” said Donna DeLuca, former principal of St Rose School.

The forum will be facilitated by John Hamilton, senior vice president of clinical services at the Stamford-based Liberation Meridian & Guenster Programs, Incorporated, one of several regional rehabilitation programs funded by the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.

Future forums, Ms DeLuca continued, will feature local police personnel, Newtown Youth Service counselors, and other skilled experts in the field of drug addiction and behavioral study.

Dorrie Carolan, whose son died from prescription drug abuse four years ago, said The Parent Connection plans to work in conjunction with the school district’s counseling services, the Newtown Police Department, and Newtown Youth Services.

She discussed the misconceptions families often have about the nature of drug use. “In reality, it can happen to anyone,” she said.

First Selectman Rosenthal expressed support but also concern that The Parent Connection might be “preaching to the choir,” addressing concerns to parents already deeply involved in their children’s lives.

“How do we reach the parents who aren’t as aware?” he asked, quickly adding that these parents were in the minority. “I’m not talking about most parents,” he said.

Ms Carolan said that the networking opportunities The Parent Connection offers can help eradicate this barrier.

“Basically, we just want to continue increasing awareness about drug abuse,” said Roseanne Loring, life-skills education coordinator at Newtown Youth Services.

Drug abuse in Newtown has been habitual, a reality in regions across the Northeast, noted Chief of Police Michael Kehoe. “What has been cyclical,” he said, “has been the types of drugs used.” Currently, in addition to marijuana and alcohol, the police department has reported an increase in heroin use. “We noticed a spike back in the early 90s,” said Chief Kehoe. “And now we’re noticing it again.”

There has also been a rise in prescription drug abuse. Chief Kehoe discussed a recent arrest of minors selling Ritalin. Other legally accessible prescription drugs, such as OxyContin, a medication used to treat severe pain relating to arthritis and other conditions, can be potentially addicting. In addition, OxyContin can be crushed, mixed with water or snorted to eliminate the time-release factor and produce a quick, short rush to the brain, causing effects similar to opiates. Toxic overdose can result in death.

During the last six months, the department reported 12 drug-related arrests of offenders under the age of 21. Three youths under the age of 21 were arrested for DWIs, and six were cited for possession of alcohol in a motor vehicle. In addition, five minors were detained for possession of alcohol.

Chief Kehoe has also noticed a recent rise in burglaries that involved the theft of alcohol. During the last six months, three offenders under the age of 21 were arrested for larceny of alcohol from two residential garages.

Alcohol consumption, he said, typically happens at parties for high school-aged youths. The town is currently evaluating a proposed ordinance that would fine parents a yet-to-be-determined sum for distributing alcohol to minors. In the past, there have been reports of parents “supervising” underage drinking by providing the alcohol themselves. Chief Kehoe explained that unless the parents are giving alcohol to their own children in a private, supervised setting, it is illegal to give alcohol to minors – under any circumstances.

“Increasing drug and alcohol awareness,” he said, “is ongoing.” The department uses various forms of intelligence, from detectives to street sources, to monitor supply hotspots in cities including Danbury and Bridgeport. A lot of the dealing in Newtown, he said, usually happens in cars or private residences.

“We have a tip-line [270-8888] that, generally, is underused,” he said. The tip-line, he assured, is completely anonymous.

Currently, The Parent Connection runs a Hope and Support group through Newtown Youth Services Monday evenings from 7 to 9 pm. In addition, a local chapter of Al-Anon/Alateen for families and friends of alcoholics meets Tuesdays from 7 to 8 pm at St Rose Education Center. For more information, contact Ms Carolan at 426-8591 or 426-6424, or Ms DeLuca at 426-9280. Newtown Youth Services can be contacted at 270-4335.

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