On a rainy night last February, more than 200 people—all ages, all walks of life— gathered in Parade Plaza in New London, Connecticut, holding flickering candles in paper cups. During the summer, this is the bustling epicenter of local tourism, where beach-bound travelers stop to take a selfie next to a sculpture known as the Whale Tail. But that night, the crowd was there to call attention to a darker side of the surrounding area, which has been particularly hard hit in what experts are calling a nationwide epidemic of heroin use. In fact, that very week, 20 people had overdosed, though not all fatally.
“When my son died of a heroin overdose in 2014, no one was talking about it,” says Lisa Cote Johns, whose grief led her to found the organization Community Speaks Out, which helps the families of heroin and opiate addicts. “Now you can’t ignore it. It’s everywhere, in every community—rich or poor; white, black, or brown.”