The growing alarm to drug abuse is nothing new, but as the number of deaths rise in Fairfield County, Norwalk officials are warning the community of what has become not only a state-wide epidemic, but a local emergency. State-wide drug-related deaths have hit their highest point in the last 10 years.
Dr. Ari Perkins, emergency medicine specialist at Norwalk Hospital, says he has seen a shift in the type of drugs abused.
"We've been seeing a lot more prescription drug abuse, things like Vicodin, Percocet and Oxycodone," said Perkins. "We see more PCP use in young adults typically than we've had in the past and of course the number one drug of abuse in young adults has always been alcohol."
Reports show one person in Connecticut dies of an overdose each day. Norwalk Police Chief Thomas Kulhawik says the city has seen three drug-related deaths since January.
"Now those individuals can't get those prescription drugs at a cost they could afford, oxycodone or any of those things, so they've turned to heroine, which is a much cheaper alternative to maintain the need that they have, which is causing heroine use to spike and the unfortunate deaths as a result."
State reports show there were over 500 drug related deaths in Connecticut last year, and over 200 of those were heroin-related overdoses.
"The reason people die from heroin is that it slows your body's breathing and in fact, if you take too much it can even stop your body's breathing," said Perkins. "And if you're not breathing, you're not getting oxygen, and that's how people die."
Kulhawik says officials are starting to track incidents in order to determine the scope of the problem.
"You don't realize how many people I've seen that have come through the door where it started with painkillers and has progressed and now their lives are ruined," said Kulhawik.
"Just as the reasons for drug abuse aren't 'one size fits all', neither are the treatments. So some people require medication, some people require therapy, some people require groups and some people require combinations and I think you have to find the right path for that person," said Perkins.
Officials say overdoses are affecting people within the age range of their late teens to age 30. They say be aware of sudden behavioral and financial changes if you suspect someone has fallen victim to drug abuse.