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Packed room for forum on opiate addiction in Middletown

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MIDDLETOWN--On Tuesday night, a forum on opiate use in Connecticut brought a standing-room-only crowd to Middletown's Health Center.

"In the past year, I've lost four friends to opioid overdose," said Michael Mitchell of Meriden. "Just me losing four friends, I can only imagine the rest of the people they've lost as a result of opioid addiction."

According to Dr. J. Craig Allen, Rushford Center's medical director, the number of heroin-related overdose deaths climbed 20 percent from 2014 to 2015.

The panel, made up of doctors and law enforcement officers, said much of the heroin is coming from Hartford, where prices are low, and said that adolescents are most vulnerable.

"The average heroin user these days is a 24-year-old Caucasian male living in the suburbs," said Dr. Allen.

Dr. Allen also stressed the importance of Narcan, a drug used to reverse the effects of heroin overdose. He said the drug has so far saved the lives of more than 16,000 people.

One of the pathways that unintentionally leads people to heroin is dental work.

"You wouldn't think that, right?" said Mark Masselli, president and CEO of Community Health Center. "You might've had a tooth extracted and you got a large bottle of opioids and then, all of a sudden, you were addicted and it was a gateway to other drugs."

The experts say physicians need to be mindful about how they prescribe painkillers, and encourage more conversation about the issue.

"We need people to continue to talk about it and lawmakers to talk about it," said Mitchell. "And the more it gets out there, the more people are gonna reach out and say, 'I have a problem and I could use some help.'"

On Tuesday, a 25-year-old man was sentenced to three years in prison for his role in the death of a 14-year-old girl from East Windsor who had taken a bad batch of heroin.