NORWICH, Conn. (WTNH) — Tuesday marks National Fentanyl Awareness Day, which aims to boost nationwide efforts to increase awareness of the dangers of fentanyl and decrease the demand for the highly-addictive synthetic opioid.

The opioid crisis has far-reaching impacts across Connecticut communities, including in youth.

The Governor’s Prevention Partnership, along with Congressman Joe Courtney, led a roundtable discussion Monday at Three Rivers Community College in Norwich seeking input on how the statewide nonprofit will use a $739,322 grant it received to fight the opioid crisis among young people. 

“I basically act as an informed peer,” said Zoe Jensen, a youth peer advocate.

She has seen students as young as middle school start using drugs and alcohol. It’s not necessarily opioids at that age, but she said it can lead to them later. 

“A large part of it is feeling alone,” Jensen said. “If you don’t feel alone, then you’re more able to communicate and express your feelings and work through them in a healthier way.” 

The report below is from News 8 at 5 p.m. on May 8, 2023.

Jensen said that’s why peer advocacy can be so helpful to kids who are struggling. 

Courtney’s office said that there were 1,768 unintentional drug overdose deaths between 2015 and 2023, most of them opioid-related, within his 2nd Congressional District. That’s compared to 9,473 statewide. 

In New London County, there were 814 overdose deaths.

Fentanyl is involved in more deaths of Americans under 50 than any cause of death, including heart disease, cancer, homicide, suicide and other accidents, according to the DEA.

Leaders said that’s why the grant aims at providing programs in New London, Norwich and Groton high schools. But the crisis reaches well beyond that region. 

“I think the fact that the Department of Justice is the agency that awarded this grant really underscores that fact,” Courtney said.

In Enfield, which is in the northernmost part of his district, there were 111 overdose deaths from 2015 to 2023.

“All of the programs that we do are scalable and so our hope is we’ll be able to take what we’re doing in these three communities and apply it more broadly across Connecticut and specifically across the second congressional district,” said Kelly Juleson, the co-president of the Governor’s Prevention Partnership. 

The grant will fund mentorship and prevention programs which will serve 200 high school students and 200 parents or guardians.