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When Newtown mom and local Building Department staffer Lynn Kovack lost her daughter Mindy to an opioid overdose in March 2016, she was so consumed in the aftermath that included prosecution of the dealer who provided the drugs, and the custodial care of Mindy’s three young children including an infant daughter, that she never really had time to grieve.
One of the most difficult post-incident experiences Ms Kovack said she had to face after burying her 30-year-old daughter, was standing up and addressing the court during sentencing for the individual convicted of providing Mindy with the fatal dose of drugs that cost her life. But instead of letting the pain and grief drive her into silence, she sought ways to help spread the word about the true costs of the state’s opioid crisis.
Now, more than a year on, Ms Kovack is coping with her loss while finding ways to try and help prevent other moms like her from facing that tragic experience. While engaging with the support systems provided through the Newtown Parent Connection, Ms Kovack has started speaking out publicly about what happened.
“I have begun doing work with the US Attorney’s Office HEAT program and speaking at schools regarding the heroin epidemic,” Ms Kovack told The Newtown Bee. “I spoke at Abbott Tech a couple of times, both with positive feedback from staff and especially the students. I have relatives who go to school there, and they actually got letters from some of their teachers saying how impressed they were by the talk.
“That is tremendously touching to me knowing that even the adults were affected by what I had to say,” she said, “and after I was done I had young girls coming up to me expressing sorrow for my loss and thanking me for getting this information out there in such a personal way.”
According to the Department of Justice, the mission of the US Attorney’s Heroin Education Action Team (USA HEAT) is to reduce the growing harm to Connecticut families and communities caused by heroin/opioid abuse by increasing community understanding of this epidemic.
USA HEAT is a partnership between the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Connecticut and families who have lost a loved one to an overdose. These courageous moms, dads, brothers, sisters, and children share their story in order to help others avoid the grief of losing a family member from this dangerous epidemic, the agency website states.
Heroin, Fentanyl, and other opioids are increasingly available on Connecticut streets, with deadly consequences — and the victims of drug addiction and overdose deaths are getting younger, the HEAT site states. In 2016, the state was left reeling from more that 800 opioid overdose deaths, and on track to lose as many or more this year.
The US Attorney’s Office says the increasing incidence of opiate abuse fuels violent and property crime in Connecticut communities, stresses social services networks, burdens the state’s health care resources, and reaches into local schools. USA HEAT seeks to inform communities of what state residents are up against, and what communities can do to fight back.
“Our team members deliver a compelling message, based on the tragedy that they have experienced first-hand,” the site states. “USA HEAT seeks to mobilize our communities to implement a coordinated, effective response to this growing threat. US Attorney Deirdre Daly and her staff partner with members of the team to deliver a truly powerful message to community groups about the growing heroin epidemic and its real impact on our families.”
After appearing for her first two engagements in Danbury, members of the US Attorney’s office were also impressed with Ms Kovack’s demeanor and composure, so much that she was recommended for the prestigious 2017 United States Attorney’s Violent Crimes and Narcotics Unit Award.
Ms Kovack, accompanied by family members, was presented with that award in ceremonies in the Aldermanic Chambers at New Haven City Hall on June 14.
While she works and cares for her three grandchildren along with husband Scott, Ms Kovack said she is looking forward to doing more community outreach.
“I am doing more forums in the fall in Newtown, Litchfield, and Prospect, and reading a lot to educate myself because looking back now there were so many signs I believe I just missed them because [Mindy] was acting pretty normal until the end,” Ms Kovack said, adding that she attributed Mindy’s extreme stress to issues involving her three young children, “which I am sure didn’t help the situation either.”
She does not understand why, but Ms Kovack says doing this type of public outreach is helping her heal.
“We can all make a difference in someone’s lives, even just one person, so if I could help one person I was going to do whatever I could. I have been telling my story and going to all these forums about vaping, heroin, and opiates, and it’s helping me start to mourn her,” Ms Kovack said.
“It’s been challenging while taking care of Mindy’s three girls, but I’m trying to advocate for them,” she added. “Mindy’s oldest is 9 now, and from what I’m learning, that’s around the age where kids start developing awareness about drugs and alcohol, so I’m doing a lot of this for her, too.”