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Five Years In, Drug Awarenss Remains 'Top Priority'

It has been five years since Mary Marcuccio founded Parents-4-A-Change, but the he said that there is still “much work to do.”

When North Haven resident Barbara Hoffman was struggling with drug addiction in 2009, her family was worried she was nearing the end of her life. Scared and feeling hopeless, Barbara’s mother reached out to Southington resident Mary Marcuccio.

The support and information that the Hoffman family received through Marcuccio’s Southington-based organization Parents-4-A-Change helped Barbara Hoffman, a college student now about to celebrate her 21st birthday and working towards a degree as a drug abuse counselor, to turn her life around.

“The support they provided to our family when things were tough, it saved my daughter’s life,” said Joanne Hoffman, Barbara’s mother. “Mary was there when we had no one else to turn to, when I was crying on the phone at 2 a.m. She walked us through every step of the crisis.”

Hoffman had spent almost four years at that point fighting addictions with alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, Ecstasy and prescription painkillers like OxyContin and Xanax. Then 18, she believed recovery was no longer an option.

From recovery options to dealing with the symptoms of drug withdrawal and relapse, Joanne Hoffman said Parents-4-A-Change was able to provide the assistance and information they could not find anywhere else – including at Yale-New Haven Hospital where doctors were unable to identify her daughters addiction even after multiple blood tests.

Success stories like these are becoming a common theme at monthly meetings held by Parents-4-A-Change, a national leader in drug awareness and support, and Marcuccio said the organizations goals remain focused on the task at hand: increasing awareness and providing families across the state and nation with the tools they need to recognize and overcome drug addiction.

5 Years In..

Parents-4-A-Change celebrated its fifth anniversary on Monday night, coming together with more than 40 people for a public forum at the . It wasn’t about celebrating, however, as the group instead heard a 1.5 hour presentation on identifying drug use and the specific dangers of marijuana, cocaine, prescription pills and heroin.

The organization was formed in March 2007 with just a handful of local residents. Led by Marcuccio, who spoke out at several public meetings including making a presentation before the Southington Town Council and Southington Board of Education, they encouraged leaders to take a stand and stop hiding the problem under the rug.

“My concern, the whole motivation for this group came from my own personal experience,” Marcuccio said. “When my son was going through his struggles, I regretted not having the education that could have helped us identify it earlier.”

In 2008, the group made headlines in throwing their support behind a new treatment for heroin called Naltrexone. The drug is inserted through a sub-dermal procedure into patients and acts to inhibit the high while also curbing cravings for the drug.

The headlines captured the attention of media outlets on a national level and within a year, the efforts to promote drug awareness led Parents-4-A-Change into the national spotlight. The group received exposure with features on ABC’s Nightline, in the New York Times and before she knew it, Marcuccio said emails were flooding her inbox.

The group now consists of between 40 to 80 state residents at each monthly meeting and now has more than 200 families and over 800 members involved in regular communication through email and phone conversations. The local effort has also helped spawn similar groups across the country.

The success is not deterring Marcuccio or members of Parents-4-A-Change from their goals, however, and the presentation Monday showed the need to continue to raise awareness and address the issue.

“Drug abuse remains political taboo. We have found the support of some community leaders and parents, but I have been disappointed to date in the overall response of the community,” Marcuccio said, noting that hundreds of local emails led to just 40 people at Monday’s public forum.

Marcuccio said that while select leaders and groups have supported the efforts, she still finds heavy resistance to the issue from many in town.

“Southington has a problem, but it’s important to say that Southington is not a bad place,” she said. “Our town is not unique in these factors. Drugs are an issue in most communities, most suburban and rural settings throughout the nation.”

Drug addiction is adversely affecting 35 million people in the U.S. each day, Wayne Kowal of the Connecticut State Police Narcotics Task Force said during a presentation Monday. Each day alone, 3,300 youth are using prescription painkillers.

And those numbers only reflect those who actually admit that they have a problem.

Stronger Drugs

Law enforcement has stepped up efforts over the past several decades, Kowal said, but drug abuse remains a rampant issue and the number of deaths and users continues to increase despite the enforcement. One reason for this lies in the increase in drug potency, he said.

“Certain illicit drugs are more pure in their creation and are four or five times as potent as they were just 30 years ago,” Kowal said. “The potency can create a stronger physical or psychological dependency and as the body becomes accustomed to the drugs, it takes more and more to reach the level of that first high.”

Marijuana in the 1960s had THC level of around 16 percent in the most potent batches, but plants today contain as much as 38 percent. Kowel said heroin, a drug that has seen exponential growth in use across the northeast since 1993, once carried a 25-percent potency but is now available at levels as pure as 80 to 90 percent, according to studies.

Making matters worse, he said drugs like heroin are often cut before they reach the user. In Chicago, the death toll has piled up as chemicals including caffeine, chalk, laundry detergent, rat poison and more are used to “step on” or cut the drugs. These chemicals are often more dangerous than the drug itself.

“If we were dealing with drug dealers that have an ethical business model, we wouldn’t be having this problem. The truth is that while dealers don’t want to kill their buyers, there is always someone new to sell to and most are not concerned about the possible negative effects their cutting agents could have,” Kowal said.

Marcuccio said as Parents-4-A-Change looks to the future, their goals have not changed at all. In fact, she said the statistics show that there is only a need to work harder in educating the public.

“Success will continue to be measured through two things,” she said. “The first is by the level of support that we are able to provide to families through the area. The second is to get the young people in our communities involved in knowing the dangers and the importance of staying away from any casual use. There is no other motive, no bigger picture here.”

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