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Blumenthal to hold forum addressing heroin epidemic

Hour Staff Report

Photo/Alex von Kleydorff.In this file photo, Ginger Katz straightens a photo of her son Ian, in an
area of her Courage to Speak Foundation office in Norwalk.

HARTFORD — Larry and Ginger Katz, co-founders of the Courage to Speak Foundation, and Darnell Crosland, president of the Norwalk NAACP, will be among those on hand Friday afternoon when U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal plays host to a forum to combat the heroin epidemic. The forum will be held at 3:30 p.m. Friday at the Southwest Community Health Center in Bridgeport.

Blumenthal has invited recovering addicts, community leaders, substance abuse experts and medical professionals to the forum as the Senate debates comprehensive legislation to stem the opioid addiction crisis. The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act would equip states and local communities with resources and incentives to combat opiate addiction and overdoses.

Among the measures included in the bill are expanded prevention, training and education efforts, expanded availability of naloxone, additional resources to treat incarcerated individuals suffering from addiction, expanded disposal sites for excess prescription medication, and enhanced prescription drug monitoring programs. Blumenthal is leading efforts to amend the bill to further enhance prescriber education and training, and to ensure all veterans have access to naloxone through VA without co-pays.

The Senate is has been debating the measure this week and is expected to vote on the bill next week.

Norwalk-based The Courage to Speak Foundation was founded in 1996 after Ginger and Larry Katz’s son, Ian, died of a drug overdose. The Katzes will participate in today’s forum with Blumenthal. Other participants include Crosland, Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim, Bridgeport Chief of Police A.J. Perez, and Michael Askew, manager of Bridgeport Recovery Community Center.

Heroin and opiate abuse has increased greatly in Connecticut and nationwide in recent years. In 2012, there were 195 fatal heroin, morphine or codeine overdoses in Connecticut. By 2013, that number had jumped to 284. In 2014, it jumped to 347. By 2015, 415 overdose deaths were reported. This rise in deaths and the increasing addiction rates for heroin are inextricably connected with the availability of illegal drugs, the lack of adequate resources to address addiction and the over-prescription of pain killers, according to Blumenthal.

“Heroin and opiate abuse is a deadly, pernicious scourge plaguing communities across the state, claiming hundreds of lives and destroying families,” Blumenthal said in a release. “I have heard from recovering addicts, parents, medical professionals, substance abuse experts and community leaders from across Connecticut, all who have called for immediate measures to combat this crisis. I will bring their experiences and expertise to the Senate floor as I work to improve and pass this vital legislation.”