Gateway Program To Battle Opioid Abuse

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

In her 38 years as a professional on the front lines of drug-addiction education, prevention and treatment, Gateway Community College social-services professor Cher Shannon has seen it all. As coordinator of Gateway’s Drug & Alcohol Recovery Counselor (DARC) program, Shannon oversees the training of professionals who seek to help those most at risk for abusing dangerous drugs — and to help prevent or treat what has become an epidemic of drug overdoses.  

But Shannon has never seen the drug crisis spiral to the dangerous levels of 2017, when the abuse of opiates such as heroin, fentanyl and prescription drugs has become endemic — and increasingly fatal — in Connecticut and beyond. According to 2016 figures from the state medical examiner’s office, 917 people died of drug overdoses in Connecticut last year — an average of nearly three a day.   

But today Shannon is optimistic about the prospects for progress in the war against drug addiction. A new $10,000 grant from the Connecticut Healthy Campus Initiative will help Gateway combat the opioid and prescription-drug epidemic plaguing New Haven, the state and beyond. The grant, which runs through April 30, 2018, will help to fund a Campus Opioid Education & Awareness Program. The money comes from the Connecticut Center for Prevention, Wellness & Recovery.  

The new grant will help to fund the creation and distribution of printed materials intended to raise awareness of the dangers of addiction and resources available to those seeking help, as well as educational programs on addiction and recovery for members of the Gateway campus community. It will also help to provide training to GCC security personnel and faculty staff in overdose prevention and the use of naloxone (trade name Narcan), a potentially life-saving medication used in opioid overdoses.  

All are essential weapons in addressing the most pressing public-health concern of our time. “Heroin, opioids and prescription drugs have always been around,” said Shannon. But now their abuse has assumed dimensions never before seen — and spread throughout all strata of society. “Now we’re seeing [the crisis] in terms of deaths.”  

And it’s a crisis that hits home for members of the Gateway community. Of the more than 900 overdose deaths recorded in Connecticut last year, 133 fatalities were reported in greater New Haven and 44 in the city proper. But now suburban communities, once viewed as safe havens from the ravages of drug overdoses, have increasingly become a prime battleground in the addiction battle, noted Shannon, who lives in Newtown. For many years that battle raged in the shadows. No longer.  

At a September recovery fair hosted by Gateway, “We had at least 44 people requesting prescriptions” for Narcan, Shannon recalled. “That day we started hearing stories — ‘My boyfriend overdosed,’ ‘My friend overdosed,’ ‘We called 911’…That started to open the conversation,” she said. “Our plan is to open it more.  

 “We keep doing more and more — more education, more awareness — and yet the deaths continue to increase,” explained Shannon. Now, by making available much-needed addiction education and treatment resources to members of the Gateway community, Shannon hopes to put a dent in a public-health crisis that threatens to engulf individuals and families in all communities.  

“We need people to understand that addiction is not a moral issue,” said Shannon. “It is a chronic, progressive, relapsing brain disease. Just taking away the drug doesn’t address the disease.” But education and prevention may help to slow the disease’s spread throughout the population and allay its terrible toll.