Addressing Opioids on a Local Level: Eastern Promotes Community Coalition

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WILLIMANTIC, CT (03/06/2018) Eastern Connecticut State University held a seminar on Feb. 28 to encourage dialogue about what can be done to combat the American opioid crisis on a local level. Hosted by the Health Sciences Department, the event featured a panel of professionals who are working to address the issue.

The first speaker, Thomas St. Louis, is an epidemiologist with the Connecticut Department of Public Health. He discussed beneficial workplace approaches to the opioid epidemic. "I think the time of researching or trying to figure out whether or not this is a real problem is over."

St. Louis called attention to the relationship between workplace injuries and opioid abuse, citing a number of factors that can enable addiction--different levels of access to healthcare, the severity of an injury and socioeconomic status.

He listed five principles for employers to utilize when handling opioids: identifying the problem early, giving instant support, being flexible, regularly reviewing the situation, and enlisting success in the employee. St. Louis stressed that the prevailing judgmental attitude toward addiction and the dynamics of workplace policies need to change. "We're talking about a person with a disease."

The next presenters were Willimantic police officers Matthew Solak and Matthew Nixon, who covered some of the legal aspects of opioid use. Solak noted that the recent increase in synthetic opioids, in combination with changing drug trafficking methods, makes it difficult to confront this issue on a large scale.

Despite such expansion, he expressed that simply arresting substance users is not the solution. "Quite frankly," he said, "We can't arrest our way out of the problem … we can't just keep locking people up." Solak argued that a strategy focused on incarceration results in people stuck in the criminal justice system rather than receiving help.

Nixon, a certified drug-recognition expert, described the Drug Influence Evaluation test, a voluntary post-arrest test that determines what drug people are under the influence of.

He added that the Willimantic Police Department is taking initiatives to combat driving under the influence with programs such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving, a nonprofit that strives to tighten policies on impaired driving, including being under the influence of opioids. "A DUI is a preventable problem," Nixon said.

Dr. Tiwalola Kolawole, a psychiatrist at Backus Hospital focused on the perils of opioid addiction during her lecture, presenting statistics and hypothetical scenarios. An opioid that is of current concern is Fentanyl, which is 5,200 times more potent than heroin, said Kolawole. She then explained how opioids work--by making pain disappear. Frequent use then becomes addiction, as "the release of dopamine in the brain now becomes dependent on the use of the drug."

She proposed that a better term for addiction is "substance use disorder," to reinforce the idea that addiction is a medical condition. Negative effects that come from being dependent on opioids include a feeling of hopelessness, lack of appetite and poor sleep schedule.

Kolawole also touched on the barriers that come with getting assistance, from the public, the medical industry and family. "Stigma, stigma, stigma," she said. "We all need to talk about this. The bottom line for today is that everybody needs to do something. It's everybody's problem."

Having experienced addiction herself, Tracie Compositor, a case manager in Willimantic, serves as a support system for users, from a peer perspective as well as a professional one. She discussed the importance of building genuine connections and understanding that users come from different backgrounds.

"There's no quick fix for treatment of addiction," said Compositor, noting that individualized treatment is necessary to effective recovery. "It can be hard to maintain hope," she continued, but her goal is to "hold that hope for someone until they're strong enough to take it and run with it."

Other speakers included Angie Bolduc, a practical nurse, Samantha Wilson, a clinical therapist and Kelvin Young, a holistic stress management instructor.

Written by Jordan Corey


Eastern Connecticut State University is the state of Connecticut's public liberal arts university, serving more than 5,300 students annually at its Willimantic campus and satellite locations. In addition to attracting students from 163 of Connecticut's 169 towns, Eastern also draws students from 26 other states and 20 other countries. A residential campus offering 40 majors and 65 minors, Eastern offers students a strong liberal art foundation grounded in an array of applied learning opportunities. Ranked the 25th top public university in the North Region by U.S. News and World Report in its 2018 Best College ratings, Eastern has also been awarded 'Green Campus' status by the Princeton Review eight years in a row. For more information, visit

It is the policy of Eastern Connecticut State University to ensure equal access to its events. If you are an individual with a disability and will need accommodations for this event, please contact the Office of University Relations at (860) 465-5735.