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Connecticut has joined a growing chorus urging federal lawmakers to pass legislation that would help states combat heroin and opioid abuse.

State Attorney General George Jepsen and attorneys general from 36 other states sent a letter last week to leaders of the Congressional Committee on the Judiciary, asking them to pass the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2015.

If ultimately enacted, the federal law would give states additional tools to fight the growing rise in heroin and opioid abuse and addiction, according to Jepsen. Opioids include medications typically prescribed to relieve pain.

The act, according to the letter, would:

• expand prevention and educational efforts, especially for teens, parents and aging populations;
• make naloxone, a drug commonly used to counteract the effects of an overdose, more available to law enforcement and first responders, and;
• devote more resources to identifying and treating incarcerated people who are are battling addiction to opioids.

The act also would help, the attorneys general wrote, by:

• increasing the number of disposal sites where people can take unwanted prescription medications, thereby keeping them away from children and adolescents;
• strengthening prescription drug monitoring programs to help states better track medications, and;
• launching an opioid and heroin treatment and intervention program nationwide.

The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act could have a big impact here in Connecticut, Jepsen said.

Opioid overdoses led to 307 deaths statewide last year, up from 257 in 2013 and 174 in 2012, he said.

“While addiction is treatable, very few of those needing effective treatment are actually receiving it,” Jepsen said in a statement. “In order to begin to turn the tide on the epidemic of opioid abuse, we must improve access to addiction treatment and recovery support nationally.”

The problem is growing similarly nationwide. Drug overdoses have surpassed auto accidents as the leading cause of injury-related death for Americans ages 25 to 64, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 100 people nationwide die daily from overdoses, according to the CDC, and more than half of those cases involve prescription opioids or heroin. 

“Law enforcement has always been on the frontline when it comes to drug crises, but we cannot arrest ourselves out of this current epidemic,” the attorneys general wrote in their letter. “Research shows the best way to address this challenge is through a strategy that includes prevention, law enforcement, reduction of overdose deaths, evidence-based treatment, and support for those in, or seeking, recovery.”

In another opioid-related announcement, Jepsen recently wrote to the CEO of California-based Amphastar Pharmaceuticals Inc. to ask why the price of naloxone — also popularly known as Narcan — has jumped.

In that letter, to Amphastar CEO Jack Zhang, Jepsen said the lifesaving drug’s rising cost would limit Connecticut first responders’ access to it.