NEW CANAAN — With the opioid epidemic raging around the country, conversation has steered toward addressing the personal and familial impacts that addiction can have in a community.

“Despite the fact that our family went through something very devastating, I can look back on it now and recognize that there were low points but high points, too,” Paul Reinhardt said at a panel talk on addiction at Grace Farms March 1. “One high point was Sept. 15, 2016 when we had our first meeting and I think five people came to that first meeting, but we got it off the ground and parents just started coming. Every time we had one of these meetings I can think of Evan and how he gave this gift to this community.”

Community Pastor of Grace Community Church Stuart Knechtle moderated a conversation that featured Reinhardt, a New Canaan resident, and Kym Hyde, a Darien resident, both parents who have experienced the effects of addiction in their families.

The panel also included Director of Behavioral Health Services at The Southfield Center for Development Dr. Frank Bartolomeo and Director of the Parent Support Network Tom Hedrick, both of whom addressed the effects and stigmas of addiction within a family.

Reinhardt and Hyde provided personal, impactful stories about their families’ experiences in dealing with substance abuse. Through their openness, both parents hoped that talking about their situations would encourage others to do the same and remove the stigmatization surrounding these issues.

Reinhardt’s son, Evan, lost his life to a heroin overdose in July 2015 at age 24. A little more than a year later, Reinhardt founded the New Canaan Parent Support Group to help parents converse about similar situations.

Hyde’s son was diagnosed with depression and anxiety and was prescribed antidepressants. His situation would improve, only to worsen when he returned home from school. After he suffered an accident, Hyde received a toxicology report from the hospital where she first learned that he had a problem with drugs and alcohol.

“It was at that point that I realized I had no idea what to do,” Hyde said. “I thankfully had a friend who came to talk to him and that was probably one of the best things that I did.”

Hyde decided she needed to learn more and find the support necessary to make the changes that would help her and her family. She has attended Reinhardt’s support group for over a year, a group she said helps her “not feel alone.”

Around 40 people attended the event, with many finding a certain relief from hearing about similar situations.

Theresa Figueiras, a Norwalk resident, found the panel to be helpful and alleviating.

“This was awesome,” Figueiras said, referencing an issue within her own family. “Dr. Bartolomeo said something that really appealed to me and I think it was very helpful. Once I opened up to hearing more, it took a huge weight off my shoulders.”

A Greenwich resident whose son is facing addiction problems related to the pressure of stigmatization. “It’s something I’ve experienced as a parent,” the man said. “You don’t want to tell anyone and you worry if you’re reinforcing the negative behavior within your own home. After today I realized how helpful a support group is.”

A New Canaan mother whose son is currently in recovery and attends Reinhardt’s group regularly believed the event was successful. “My son and I are in a good place and support groups like Al-Anon and Paul’s support group have been very helpful.”

Hyde was content that many people came with questions and discovered answers through the discussion.

“If there is one message I hope people got from this discussion it is that there are resources for parents,” Hyde said. “There are support groups, Al-Anon, forums like these and workshops and help out there — you just have to take the first step.”

Reinhardt was pleased with the way parents responded to the panel.

“I want to make sure that people know that there always is hope,” Reinhardt said. “In the support group there are cycles — some parents come and go but there are always parents coming in. There are still many people in New Canaan who are struggling with these types of situations and we want to let them know that there is always hope.”

humberto.juarez@hearstmediact.

com