DARIEN — The number of opioid-related deaths in Connecticut keeps rising and community organizations want to prevent that from continuing.

The Community Fund of Darien, along with the town’s Health and Police departments, have hired Susannah Lewis, a mental health program coordinator at New York City Health and Hospitals, to research the impact of opioid abuse in Darien.

“It’s a deep dive into the data that is available of what’s happening in town around opioid use and abuse,” Lewis said. “This data comes from talking with providers, prescribers and pharmacies. This is about trying to see what the situation is locally.”

Lewis’s findings will form part of a community assessment tailor-made to address Darien’s situation in a project that will help coordinate trainings on pain management and community forums. The first forum will take place March 21 at the Darien Library.

Opioid overdoses, which claimed 917 lives in Connecticut in 2016, according to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, are not reportable conditions. The number of overdoses that actually occur is virtually unknown — health departments and the public only know the number of deaths, not survivals, related to opioid overdoses.

Darien Director of Health David Knauf, a member of the Connecticut Association of Directors of Health, said the association is pushing for the state legislature to do something about this issue and implement a reporting system so that local directors can have a more direct understanding of what’s going on.

“We don’t know how many overdoses occur in Darien,” Knauf said. “We work with Post 53 and first responders and the police department to have them report to us, but that’s a recent development. We rely on them to know what’s going on.”

More Information

To attend

Darien Library Community Room

Wednesday, March 21, from 7-8:30 p.m.

For more information, visit darienlibrary.org/event/2044

Knauf has supported initiatives to make changes at the state level to make opioid overdoses a reportable condition.

“Thankfully we haven’t seen any recent deaths in town, but we don’t know what’s happening in between. The only overdoses we would know about are those reported to us by first responders — if a Darien resident overdosed somewhere else, we would never know,” Knauf said.

Like Knauf, Lewis believes that more can be done to prevent opiate addiction by documenting the number of non-fatal overdoses in towns.

“This is strictly a public health-type effort and the report is focused on Darien and looking at it from the town level,” Lewis said.

The Darien Police Department will be represented by Detective James Palmieri, who will talk about how the police are involved in this issue.

Keynote speaker Dr. Robert Newman, whose experience dealing with addiction spans over 40 years including time with the New York City Methadone Maintenance and Ambulatory Detoxification programs that treated over 33,000 patients annually in the mid-1970s, wants people to understand that addiction can be treated, not cured.

“My bottom line is that one has to view addiction as a medical condition and it has to be treated as such,” Newman said. “It has to be assessed in the same way we consider any other treatment of a chronic medical condition.”

Talking from experience, Newman hopes the right efforts are made to make addiction treatment a present force in all communities.

“With addiction treatment, there’s a fundamental misconception that it should be possible to cure it. We have known for over a 100 years that we don’t know any cure,” Newman said. “It’s necessary to push our leaders at the local, state and federal level to ensure that treatment is available to every single person.”