MADISON — When people first met Joe Deane, he made a lasting impression.
You would often find the gregarious 23-year-old chatting with customers at his family’s restaurant, Brother Mikes, in Madison making the rounds and ensuring everyone was having a good time.
“Joe had the biggest heart and touched the lives of anyone he ever met,” shared his mother Lisa Deane sitting in the dining room of the restaurant.
On Dec. 7, 2018 Joe lost his battle against drug addiction to an overdose of pure fentanyl.
The impact of his loss to both family and friends culminated in a funeral with 1,400 people in attendance.
“The support that people gave us because everywhere he went he touched people’s lives,” said Deane.
“He was an athlete, he loved everything about sports, and he loved talking sports. Unfortunately, the drugs isolated him sometimes when he was doing them. When he was sober, he became our Joe again,” she added.
She described the painful journey her family braved to get help for Joe ranging from inpatient and outpatient care to preventative medications.
“It’s insidious. He did not want to be an addict, and it was heart-wrenching to watch him struggle. He tried so hard. My kid was just about the toughest kid you’ll ever meet, and I truly think if he hadn’t been as tough as he was, he wouldn’t have made it to 23.”
Joe isn’t alone — some 130 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (hhs.gov/opioids). Among more than 72,000 drug overdose deaths estimated in 2017, (of which Connecticut saw an increase of 12.8 percent), the sharpest increase occurred among deaths related to fentanyl and fentanyl analogs (synthetic drugs) with nearly 30,000 overdose deaths(wonder.cdc.gov).
Fentanyl is 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine. While pharmaceutical fentanyl is prescribed to manage severe pain, illegally manufactured and sold fentanyl has claimed thousands of lives. In many cases, fentanyl is mixed with other drugs such as heroine or cocaine as well as pressed into other pills, many times without the user’s knowledge.
After Joe died, Lisa Deane, her husband Peter and son Michael made a commitment to honor Joe’s memory by helping others who still have time to fight. The Deane family lives in Madison.
Together they founded a nonprofit called demandZero to combat the growing opioid epidemic plaguing so many communities and families.
Because the drug crisis extends beyond the immediate Shoreline community, Deane and her family wanted to reach out to New Haven law enforcement officials. They met privately Jan. 5 with New Haven Police Chief Anthony Campbell in his office, joined by hundreds of supporters outside.
“We discussed with Chief Campbell what we could do to help. Is it canine units, camera surveillance, boots on the ground? He said, ‘Lisa, I need everything.’ ”
While Deane and her husband Peter spoke with Campbell inside, friends and Shoreline community members gathered on the steps of the New Haven Police Station. Standing shoulder to shoulder in the pouring rain, they sought to show their solidarity to the Deane family, and to support to the work of the police who fight the onslaught of illegal drugs each day.
Asked why it was so important to attend the event, Madison resident Tina Garrity said, “I’ve known Lisa for a number of years, and I’m here to show support. We as communities have to come together. I believe that this peaceful stand-in was just a show of support. What can we do as average people and find ways to be supportive to the police who are really on the front lines trying to combat it.”
Others echoed similar sentiments of love and support for the Deane family.
One supporter said, “We’re glad it’s raining because it shows we want to be here more. We would have come out in a blizzard.”
Each attendee received a demandZero leaflet describing its mission, “Chief Campbell has granted us a meeting to discuss how we, along with other concerned citizens, can best help the New Haven Police Department with resources to bolster their efforts in bringing the deadly drug supply and the dealing of those drugs to a halt in the city of New Haven.”
After an hour of quietly huddling outside, attendees were invited inside by Campbell and ushered into his office while he addressed the issues facing both the New Haven and Shoreline communities.
“The thing that has really devastated this community and your communities is drugs. Our communities are under attack. The only way we’re going to overcome and get to the root of the problem is not with more police. It’s by working together, putting pressure on our legislators to deal with this real issue, and stop these drugs from coming into our country.”
Before adjourning the meeting, Campbell made a pledge to the audience, “We’re going to work with you to get whatever we can done to stop this. No one else needs to lose their life. This is totally preventable, and I believe that if we work together we can make a difference.”
Moving forward from the meeting, Deane said her family will continue the conversation with the New Haven Police as well as local legislators.
“We’re going to talk to Noreen Kokoruda (state representative, R-Madison), Sean Scanlon (state representative, D-Guilford), and whatever legislators will lend us an ear, and try to find out the quickest way that we can possibly get to stiffer penalties.”
As the meeting came to a close, attendees filtered outside on the steps of the police station where cast members of the local anti-bullying musical “Her Song” sang a moving rendition of “Stand Up and Speak Out” from the show.
Deane, who is a fellow cast member, said, “I so appreciate the cast of ‘Her Song’ coming out, and the support I got from the town. If someone is hurting whether they’re being bullied or taking drugs and you know it, you’ve got to stand up and speak out. I am absolutely speaking from my heart. I’m not going to let Joe go in vain. No way.”