NEW CANAAN — In the past two years, seven New Canaan residents have died from an overdose. While the numbers may be small compared to larger cities, they’re indicative of a larger problem across the nation with heroin.

Jacqueline D’Louhy, a youth and family services coordinator with the Youth Services of New Canaan, saw a problem in the lack of awareness to the matter in town. She saw an opportunity to improve community efforts and applied for the town to become part of a pilot community program from national recovery nonprofit, Facing Addiction.

“We’re doing a lot of this stuff and we’re doing it without money,” D’Louhy said. “So let’s get an organization to help us and they can identify areas where this could be improved. ... This was another way to say we’re doing great work and we can do it without money. ... We can implement this in all areas. We’re already doing it, we just need to be highlighting it.”

New Canaan was chosen out of 50 communities that applied and is part of the pilot with bigger cities like Chicago and Baton Rouge.

“New Canaan submitted a tremendous application,” said Michael King, national director of outreach and engagement for Facing Addiction. “Jacqueline D’Louhy did a tremendous job communicating the needs of the community. We wanted a range of communities, and New Canaan fits a unique bill. We didn’t get a lot of applications from affluent suburban communities, so it was intriguing to see how an approach like this might be effective in a community like that. We’d like to see this all over the country and in order to do that, you have to do it all sorts of communities.”

The yearlong project is broken into three stages.

More Information

For more information on the Facing Addiction pilot program, go to the New Canaan Coalition meeting on May 18 at 10 a.m, at New Canaan Library or contact Jacqueline D’Louhy at New Canaan Youth Services.

Step one is building an advocacy base around the community which will be D’Louhy’s focus until August. Her goal is to have five advocates in different areas of the community, such as in law enforcement and the schools.

“We really have a lot of people in that are on board, but we need to re-engage people and give them jobs,” she said. “You can't ask people to come to meetings, but not have them doing stuff in there.

During the second stage of the project, Facing Addiction will come to educate the advocate base from September to December. King will do webinars, conference calls and help work with the New Canaan Coalition to get the word out about the project, as well as about addiction itself.

From January to April, the third and final part of the project will take place, which is campaigning these ideas. D’Louhy said she would like to have advocates writing letters to the editors about addiction, to hold a vigil for lives lost to addiction and to have local officials declare addiction as an epidemic in the community. She also would like to see people touched by addiction, as well as their families, come and speak out about the topic.

“I think when people face these family struggles, they don't feel comfortable coming forward,” she said. “I’m finding we do have this in the community which I’m hearing more and more about. I think we do need people at saying ‘this is important.’ We need a testimony that this is a public health crisis.”

D’Louhy also envisions focusing on youth prevention strategies, which would involve the schools, law enforcement and most importantly, parents. While some communities struggle with a lack of allies in law enforcement or other addiction-related issues, D’Louhy said her goal is to prevent addiction in youth starting with the parents in the community.

“We need to get the message out to youths, but really it’s the parents,” she said. “It’s important to get it to youths, but I think it’s really the parents because they role model. ... They're the ones raising them and they are learning these lessons from parents. The role modeling piece is huge. Addiction is a disease and how do you cope with those things? We learn that from parents. I see getting a larger community of parents to see this is an issue.”

D’Louhy said by the end of the program, she’d like to see an impact made so the group could use these strategies in other communities similar to New Canaan.

King said he will consider the program a success when it helps reduce the stigma surrounding addiction in the New Canaan community, as well as an increased level awareness around town.

“The single biggest measurement of success is how many families can we get to come out and tell their stories,” he said. “New Canaan is a family community. That comes with responsibility. The more families we can get to come out and talk, the more successful the program was.”; @erin_kayata