Town health report to raise important concerns in new year, hold Thursday evening events

With the holiday season winding down, many around Darien have already begun to set their sights on 2017. As usual, there will be no shortage of New Year’s resolutions that involve lifestyle changes, gym memberships, taking the stairs, and cutting back on junk food. Truthfully, the health issues concerning Darien look to be much bigger than just another empty resolution. This year, the town of Darien will take a hard look at the health of the community, the problems on the rise, and what can be done to truly make a difference.

For the first time in 10 years, the town will release a Health Assessment Report. The release will take place over the course of three evenings and will feature guest speakers as well.

David Knauf, the director of health for the town, said that the report focused primarily on two questions, “What is the fastest growing health problem in Darien, and how does Darien compare with Connecticut as well as the nation?”

The first of the three evenings is Jan. 12, and will feature keynote speaker Gary Mendell. Mendell is the founder and CEO of Shatterproof, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to ending the devastation that addiction causes families. The following Thursday, Jan. 19, will feature keynote speaker Malcolm Jauval Spears, Jr. Spears was born in Harlem, New York City, and grew up in Stamford. He is a graduate of Liberation Programs who went on to study drama at The University of Southern California. The featured speaker on Jan. 26 is John Hamilton. Hamilton is the chief executive officer for Recovery Network of Programs, and has worked in the field of addiction prevention and treatment since 1981, and holds licenses in alcohol and drug counseling and marriage and family therapy. Each night also will include panel discussions. First Selectman Jayme Stevenson will be present on the 12th to introduce the assessment, and Police Chief Duane Lovello will speak about the role played by police on the 19th. Knauf will be present each of the three nights to present the assessment findings. All of the presentations will take place at the Darien Library.

“We really wanted to expose and present our health needs assessment,” continued Knauf. The fastest growing health problem in Darien is the abuse of prescription medications, and a large part of the assessment deals with that issue. “Five years ago, this wasn’t even on the radar screen,” said Knauf.  “There’s always been cancer, heart disease, aging leading to illnesses, but in this particular case, this problem is striking everywhere, and it doesn’t discriminate based on age or socioeconomic status,” said Knauf.

The timing of the release of the assessment coincides perfectly with a drug awareness campaign that is being put for the Stamford based group Communities 4 Action. The group is holding a slogan contest for middle school and high school students across the region. Students can enter their slogan at www.NoRxContest.com. The winner will receive $250, with two runners-up receiving $100, and the slogans will be featured in press articles and on social media.

Like the slogan contest, much of what the assessment addresses deals with raising awareness among middle school and high school students. “Just because it’s a prescription does not mean it’s safe for you to do,” said Knauf, adding, “Taking something that is unprescribed is still drug abuse.”

The assessment and campaign also focus on the need for those who keep these medicines in the house to dispose of them properly. The issue is still relatively new, and the availability of the drugs is what makes them dangerous. They can often be found in medicine cabinets and around homes, even after the prescribed person no longer needs the drug.

“We want to increase awareness to get rid of them. Don’t keep them around,” said Knauf. There is a drop box in the lobby at the police station where residents can dispose of any of their old medications, no questions asked.

 

“We have some issues that are very important, and we’ve got some really good speakers,” said Knauf about the presentation of the assessment. This year, as people make their resolutions to be more healthy, attending the presentation and learning about health issues in the town of Darien is a great place to start.

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