The National Opiate Epidemic: A Different Perspective & New Opportunity

 A community roundtable investigates mental health and substance abuse in the Greenwich community. The focus of education should be on fostering emotional stability in our youth, rather than demonizing drugs. 
GREENWICH, Conn., — At the Greenwich United Way’s Community Planning Council’s March meeting, the Chief Operating Officer at Liberation Programs, Cary Ostrow, offered a different perspective on the opiate epidemic Liberation Programs is one of Fairfield County’s leading behavioral health organizations specializing in treatment for all types of substance abuse including alcohol, opiates, depressants, and stimulants. The organization is a partner agency of the Greenwich United Way and serves about 1,200 people per day. According to the Greenwich United Way’s Needs Assessment, there has been a significant increase in the incidence of mental health issues and substance abuse problems among residents of all ages. Ostrow noted that one of the challenges is that insurance often severely restricts the amount of reimbursement and/or the number of therapy sessions an individual can receive.
Ostrow noted that it is helpful to distinguish between drug dependence, which entails adaptation to use, vs. drug addiction, which is a chronic disease, characterized by compulsive drug use despite harmful consequences. He noted that the media has highlighted a number of trends such as the quadrupling of heroin deaths between 2000 and 2015 as evidence of an opioid crisis, particularly among youth. However, with the number of heroin and opioid deaths being about 50% of alcohol-related deaths in 2016, he points to the overall problem being one of addiction. Last year in Connecticut, 32% of opioid-related deaths involved people over the age of 50 vs. 20% ages 17-29. The issue of prescription painkillers has been misinterpreted. Only 2% of Americans prescribed an opioid in 2016 develop a prescription pain relief disorder; however, of those who do, 75% of those have a prior addiction history. “The surge in youth suicide rates in the past 10 years reflects the intensifying pressures on our youth, contributing to mental health and addiction problems”, explained Ostrow.
In fact, the abuse of drugs in the United States has a long history, dating back to the 19th century, and has gone through periodic 20-year cycles. Since 1906, there have been a series of laws enacted to bolster law enforcement and impose minimum mandatory sentences for certain drug abuses. Despite these laws, drug addiction continues to be a major problem. Ostrow noted that the epidemic has continued despite these legal and enforcement efforts for several reasons:
– the focus should be more on the demand for drugs (i.e., why people use them), not the supply
– about 10% of the population is vulnerable to addiction
– altering one’s mood to feel better is part of the human condition and helps drive each and every “epidemic”
– new drugs are being manufactured
The United States represents 5% of the world’s population while consuming 80% of the world’s heroin and 80% of its prescription pain medications. Ostrow discussed a number of policy actions and strategies that would be a more effective response to addressing addiction. He noted that this policy response should be grounded in science and data and that it will require a change in cultural norms. This would require providing easy and affordable access to treatment and the end of criminalization of drug addiction. The focus of youth education should be on fostering emotional stability in our youth, rather than demonizing drugs.
For more information about the Community Planning Council please visit Greenwich United Way online, (
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About the Community Planning Council
The Community Planning Council was established by Greenwich United Way to encourage the most effective and efficient health and human service delivery system for Greenwich. Comprised of community leaders, nonprofit service professionals, Greenwich United Way board members, and community volunteers, the work of the Planning Council, particularly through its periodic Needs Assessments, has led to the development of some of the Town’s most valued programs and institutions. Help us grow awareness and tell your network about this and other upcoming presentations by sharing on social media #GUW_CommunityPlanningCouncil or visit

About Greenwich United Way

The Greenwich United Way (GUW) shares a name with approximately 1,200 other similar organizations across the nation, although the Greenwich, Connecticut division is a privately incorporated, locally governed, nonprofit agency. As a volunteer-driven organization, the Greenwich United Way exists to help identify and address the health, educational and self-sufficiency needs specific to its local community and to create and affect meaningful, lasting solutions. Through various fundraising efforts and on-going research, the organization is able to directly grant the funds necessary to accomplish this goal. The Greenwich United Way also invests in and conducts collaborative efforts to address broad-based community needs with partnering nonprofit agencies. Visit Greenwich United Way online to learn more ( Instagram @GreenwichUnitedWay Twitter @GreenwichUW #WeAreGreenwich


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