The Public Health Committee voted unanimously Monday in favor of two bills designed to address what many on the committee referred to as the “opioid crisis’’ in the state of Connecticut.
In addition to moving two bills to the Senate, the committee also amended one of the bills to put a 7-day cap on opioid prescriptions, in an effort to rein in what many phrase as “over-prescribing” of painkillers.
The 7-day cap was attached to SB 352, which largely made a product to reverse opioid overdoses more readily available to people who need them.
The legislation seeks to allow pharmacists to dispense a nasal antagonist to any person at risk of experiencing an opioid-related overdose or to a family member, friend or other person in a position to assist a person overdosing.
The committee also approved SB 353, which expands membership on the Connecticut Alcohol and Drug Policy Council to include municipal chiefs of police and licensed drug counseling professionals, as well as those receiving treatment at community-based programs.
The proposal also calls for the council to develop a more robust statewide action plan with a goal of reducing the number of opioid-induced deaths in Connecticut by one-third over a three-year period.
The committee’s actions came shortly after Rep. Matthew Ritter, D-Hartford, and Sen. Terry Gerratana, D-New Britain, called a press conference to announce they were adding the 7-day amendment to the opioid legislation.
In attendance at the press conference was Guilford parent Sue Kruczek, whose son, Nick, died of a drug overdose.
“He was my first born,” said Kruczek. “He was very athletic. He called or texted me every day. He was an extremely talented hockey player.”
That’s “when our nightmare began,” Kruczek said.
“Before his first high school game he was tossed a pill by a teammate. It started when he was 14. When he was 19, he came to me and told me he had to go to rehab,” continued Kruczek.
After leaving a rehab facility in Florida, her son returned to Connecticut and began attending classes at Southern Connecticut State University, got a job, and an apartment.
“A couple months later I didn’t get my text. I knew something was wrong. In June of 2013, I found Nick in his apartment — gone — 11 days before he would have turned 21,” she continued.
“It is too late for Nick,’’ Kruczek said. But she urged the legislature to do something “fast and furious” on the opioid crisis so “more mothers won’t have to wear memorial jerseys.”
Rep. Theresa Conroy, D-Seymour, said she had heard many similar stories to Kruczek’s in her Naugatuck Valley district.
“We are losing two people a day in this state to the heroin and opioid crisis,” Conroy said. “We need to act.”
Many committee members held community forums on heroin and opioid addiction in their districts in the last several weeks — and many commented on how the forums have been attended by hundreds of concerned parents, school officials, police, and fire officials.
Gerratana said the committee used the Center for Disease Control’s criteria in coming up with the 7-day cap language for the bill.
“We all realize that we have a crisis in our community and state,” said Gerratana. “It is time to act.”
Also speaking in support of the 7-day cap at the press conference was Dr. Dan Tobin, an assistant professor at the Yale University School of Medicine.
“We are losing more people daily from overdoses than we are from motor vehicle accidents,” Tobin said, adding that a big part of the problem, which the bill will address, is that “it is primary care” physicians who are prescribing the opioid treatments.
Doctors are under a lot of pressure to prescribe opioids, Tobin said, because “they see their patients dealing with pain.”
“Pain is terrible,” said Tobin, “but addiction is worse.”
“These (primary care) doctors don’t have the proper training in this area,” said Tobin. “I am very proud to help support this legislation.”