First Selectman Jayme Stevenson and other leaders of southwestern Connecticut municipalities want to staunch what they see as a mounting heroin and opiate addiction crisis in the region.

Stevenson along with Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton and the first selectmen of Bethel, Brookfield, New Fairfield, Redding, New Milford and Ridgefield signed a letter last month calling for a Drug Crisis Task Force to examine the problem.

Stevenson said she recently attended the local funeral of a young Darien man who was friends with one of her children who died of a heroin overdose.

“On a personal note, it is just heartbreaking,” Stevenson said. “The adults in the room have to really work together to wrap our hands around this problem to see if there is anything we can do to change these outcomes. Because they are unacceptable.”

Stevenson said she expected the Western Council of Governments, a regional planning group comprised of 18 towns and cities from Greenwich to Danbury, to discuss how to tackle the problem of heroin addiction and higher overdose rates as people begin to use the drug instead of prescription opioids, Stevenson said.

“I think having an 18-community conversation on the opiate, heroin addiction crisis is a very good thing,” Stevenson said. “I’m eager for my fellow chief elected officials to have a discussion on the best strategies to address this terrible crisis we are having and the actual viability of a task force.”

Stevenson would like to see a coordinated discussion and then partnership among the medical community, law enforcement and nonprofit agencies on strategies to address mental health issues and other underlying triggers of drug abuse.

“Drug addiction is a symptom of a much larger social and emotional crisis, and I’d like to see us talk about some of those larger issues to avoid addiction entirely,” Stevenson said. “There are other community partners who should also be part of this discussion who support people suffering from addiction, and more important, educate people on mental-health issues to help avoid addiction.”

More than 300 people died in Connecticut last year due to overdoses involving opiates with the majority of those deaths — 273 — involving heroin, according to the Chief State’s Medical Examiner’s Office.

Figures on total overdose rates in Darien vary, according to Police Sgt. Jeremiah Marron of the department’s Selective Enforcement Unit.

However, the Chief State’s Medical Examiner’s Office recorded one fatal opiate overdose in Darien last year.

Why heroin?

Marron said for town police, narcotics investigations into the sale of heroin often in cooperation with Stamford and Norwalk detectives and federal authorities is focused on seizing drugs and punishing traffickers.

The use of heroin has expanded because it is now cheaper and more available than buying Oxycontin or other opioid pills that usually kick-start addicts down the path of dependence, Marron said. A single 40-milligram Oxycontin pill has a street value of $40, whereas a longer-lasting supply of heroin can be obtained as a relative bargain, Marron said.

“We’re seeing a lot more heroin, because it is relatively cheap and potent,” Marron said.

Marron said sustaining a heroin or narcotics habit is a major driver of property crimes from burglaries to car break-ins. But while possession carries serious criminal penalties, Marron said police also want to use their power to get addicts moving toward treatment.

“Are there serious criminal sanctions involved with dealing or possessing heroin? Yes,” Marron said. “We’re trying to take a multi-faceted approach, because they are people who are in need of medical help.”