Courtesy of SEIU 1199
Julie Higgins, a former DMHAS worker laid off in April (Courtesy of SEIU 1199)

It seems like you can’t go to a news website, pick up a newspaper, or watch a television newscast these days in Connecticut without hearing about the state’s opioid crisis.

What’s been missing, at least so far, is the political aspect of the crisis.

Well, that’s changing.

Within minutes of each other on Monday, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s office and state union workers put out press releases about the opioid crisis.

Predictably, the two had different spins.

Malloy’s press release praised the state police for “saving 100 lives in fewer than two years through the administration of the opioid antagonist Narcan to individuals experiencing overdoses. The 100th save by a Connecticut State Trooper occurred early Sunday morning in Woodbury.”

At the same time, SEIU 1199, which represents state workers issued a press release promoting a new television commercial featuring Julie Higgins, a laid off state worker who, “was on the front lines of treating drug addiction in Connecticut.”

Higgins was a behavioral health community monitor for the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services for over seven years. She was laid off on April 12.

She was one of 65 SEIU 1199 workers, according to SEIU spokesperson Jennifer Schneider, who worked in areas related to opioid treatment and lost their jobs due to state budget cuts.

The 2017 budget that started on July 1 reduces salary accounts by $255 million and asks the administration to find an additional $69 million in employee savings.

Already Malloy’s administration has laid off 825 executive branch employees and the Judicial Branch has laid off 300. That brings the total number of laid off employees up to around 1,125. The administration has declined to say whether the layoffs will continue or whether they are done.

The commercial, according to Schneider, “highlights the layoffs of state workers providing vital services while $22 million of taxpayer money was giving to Bridgewater Associates, the world’s largest hedge fund.”

“Giving millions of dollars to the world’s largest hedge fund while cutting the workforce addressing our state’s opioid epidemic hurts our communities,” Schneider said. “The families of those suffering with addiction should be the priority of this state before giving taxpayer money to the hedge fund. We need to be a state that values people over hedge funds.”

The full 30-second commercial began airing on Monday. Schneider declined to say how much the union is spending on the ad buy.

Chris McClure, a spokesman for Malloy, said funding for behavioral health has increased since 2011, but advocates have long disagreed with the administration’s math.

“We take these issues seriously, which is why we’ve proposed and enacted new legislation almost every year,” McClure said referring to the opioid and heroin epidemic.

As far as the criticism about state borrowing to help the world’s largest hedge fund expand in Connecticut, McClure said: “Bridgewater is a great Connecticut company. They are creating hundreds, and hundreds, and hundreds of high-paying jobs. That should be something to celebrate. So should the extraordinary success of our business development programs and the toolkits we now have available to aggressively retain and attract companies.”

Schneider said she’s surprised the governor’s office would call Bridgewater a “great Connecticut company”  on the heels of a New York Times article in which a former employee described it as a “caldron of fear and intimidation.”

Malloy’s press release on the 100th save lauded the the enactment of a new state law in 2014 giving civil and criminal liability protection to anybody who administers Narcan in good faith to an individual experiencing an overdose.

That law arranged for all Connecticut State Police Troopers to complete a training program, providing them with the skills needed to administer the medication, and equipped them with the treatment while on duty.

“Connecticut’s state troopers are among the best in the nation, and this is proof positive that their dedication to the residents of this state is having a lasting impact,” Malloy said.