National News

Accidental drug deaths on pace to soar this year thanks to fentanyl

Posted August 29

— Heroin is a major player in what's expected to be a big uptick in drug-related deaths this year, according to state medical officials.

The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner released its report on accidental drug intoxication deaths for the first half of 2017 and projected the state to finish the year with 1,078. This number is an 18% increase from last year's drug overdose fatalities and nearly triple the 357 deaths five years ago.

From January to June, the OCME reported 539 drug deaths. Of those, 322 involved fentanyl. The youngest person who died was 17 years old and the oldest was 73.

If the pace continues, the OCME said Connecticut could see a total of 644 fentanyl-related deaths by the end of the year. That would mark 161 more than in 2016.

The Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services said they remain "dedicated to working with our partners, including people in recovery, to fight this crisis."

"The continued rise in opioid-related deaths in Connecticut is heartbreaking. Unfortunately, as fentanyl grows more widespread and drugs become more potent, increased overdose deaths can be a tragic outcome of this illness," Diana Lejardi, who is the Public Information Officer for the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, said in a statement on Monday.

Lejardi said they are "committed to working to prevent and treat addiction and supporting people in their recovery journey."

To access treatment, people can call 1-800-563-4086 at any time, day or night, according to the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.

"It's important that anybody who is touched by or battling addiction know that recovery is possible and help is available.

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) said the "shocking and inexorable increase in fatal overdoses in Connecticut" "proves no community has been spared from the ravages of the opioid epidemic."

"These hundreds of deaths are made all the more tragic by the knowledge they were entirely preventable. We owe it to those who have lost loved ones to the scourge of opioids to recommit to efforts to halt this crisis in its tracks, including allocating additional resources for treatment and prevention, and dispelling once and for all with attempts to gut affordable healthcare access for vulnerable populations," Blumenthal said in a statement on Monday.

U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy called Monday's announcement "devastating."

"The opioid epidemic is ravaging our state, and it's not slowing down," Murphy said in a statement on Monday. "People in Connecticut are counting on us to help end this epidemic. Unfortunately, we've only seen lip service from the Trump administration-calling it a crisis but then championing billions of dollars in cuts to Medicaid that would cripple life-saving substance abuse programs that Connecticut families rely on. Republicans and Democrats need to start working together to address this crisis."

Following the president addressing the nation's opioid epidemic a public health emergency earlier this month, Murphy and Blumenthal urged action to combat the opioid crisis. To read their full statement, click here.

New London started a program to help those battling addition. While the city has seen nine deaths since the beginning of the year, other cities have seen almost five times that number.

Human Services Director in New London Jeanne Milstein said "this new data today is of course very disturbing." Milstein and Ledge Light Health District's Jennifer Muggeo are just two of many who are part of the health improvement collaborative of southeast Connecticut. In collaboration with the local hospital, they're working to reduce the number of deaths in their city and in surrounding towns.

"This is a problem in every community and in every state across the nation so hoping that at some point the conversations move past how awful this epidemic is And we start talking about resources to implement real solutions," Muggeo said.

Hartford sits at the top with 42 deaths for the first half of this year. The capital city is followed by Bridgeport at 25, New Britain 24 and New Haven with 19 deaths.

Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin said the capital city "is right at the center of the opioid epidemic here in Connecticut."

"All of our firefighters and many of our police officers carry naloxone with them, and our firefighters have saved more than 400 lives in the past two years – including more than 200 this calendar year alone. But opioid addiction destroys lives even when it doesn't kill. While we continue to do everything we can at the local level with the limited resources we have, this is a national epidemic that demands a truly national campaign, focused on treatment, prevention, harm-reduction, and awareness," Bronin said in a statement on Monday.

As for New London, Muggeo and Milstein said they believe their program is working.

"We are helping individuals get into treatment on a daily basis and we are all available 24/7," Milstein said.

Muggeo and Milstein said they think getting treatment right away is key.

"When we change the conversation both the community level, in our provider offices and in our policy making to really reflect that, I think that's where we will make the difference," Milstein said.

There is an event for those battling addiction or if you know a loved battling it in New London. The event in honor of International Overdose Awareness Day will be held at Williams Park, which is at the corner of Williams and Broad streets, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Muggeo and Milstein said they are getting a small grant to help fight the problem. There will be information on treatment and they'll be giving out overdose kits. They will also have something set up so you can safely throw out prescription medications.

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