By JOHN CHRISTOFFERSEN
NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) _ The president’s top adviser on drug policy urged those recovering from drug addiction to give hope to others by speaking out, saying that stigma and denial about substance abuse are obstacles to treatment.
Michael Botticelli, acting director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, said Thursday that 23 million Americans are in recovery from substance abuse. Botticelli, who is in recovery from alcohol addiction, encouraged people to speak out about their experiences so others will understand help is available, saying only about one in nine people with a substance abuse problem get treatment.
“There’s a tremendous amount of stigma and denial associated with substance use disorders,” Botticelli said at a forum in New Haven. “We know that one of the biggest reasons people don’t ask for help is shame and denial. We need to break that silence. We’ve done it with other diseases and we can do it with substance use and we can do it with recovery.”
Several people addicted to heroin or other drugs spoke at the forum about their recovery, describing challenges ranging from shame to insurance. But they say they eventually found effective programs that helped them stay clean and end a cycle that would have led to prison or death.
Eric Burdett, a 31-year-old Naugatuck resident, said he knew his use of oxycodone was out of control for years, but he didn’t get help.
“I knew something was wrong,” he said. “I was just too ashamed to come forward and do it, to admit it to my parents, to admit it to my friends that I really was this bad and that it completely taken over and controlled my life like nothing I had ever known.”
Burdett eventually did get help, saying he was running out of options. He said he’s been clean for about 20 months. He urged officials to do whatever they can to remove the stigma so people feel more comfortable coming forward.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal called heroin abuse an epidemic and scourge. He and Sen. Chris Murphy are calling for more money for treatment, stepped up law enforcement and greater education.
“The exploding use of heroin is a scourge that we can control with a multipronged approach,” Blumenthal said.
In Connecticut, heroin-related overdose deaths went from 174 in 2012 to 257 last year, a 48 percent increase, according to the medical examiner’s office. The figures include heroin alone and heroin with other drugs.
The number of overdose deaths involving heroin increased nationwide by 45 percent between 2006 and 2010, according to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. Attorney General Eric Holder in March called the increase in heroin-related deaths an “urgent and growing public health crisis.”
In 2007, there were an estimated 373,000 heroin users in the U.S. By 2012, the number was 669,000, with the greatest increases among those 18 to 25. First-time users nearly doubled in a six-year period ending in 2012, from 90,000 to 156,000.
Another forum, sponsored by Democratic U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty, was held in Waterbury to discuss the heroin problem in central and northwestern Connecticut, including ways the federal government can help efforts to reduce drug trafficking.
(© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)