Connecticut will get $1 million from the Obama administration to help curb opioid abuse. It’s part of an $11 million grant to 11 states to expand access to medication-assisted treatment services for people with opioid use disorder.
But Connecticut officials say the funds are a drop in the bucket and won’t help with the immediate problem — access to an opioid reversal drug for those trying to kick the habit.
In Connecticut, between 2009 and 2014, over 2,000 opiate-involved overdoses occurred. Those were spread out through all but 17 of Connecticut’s 169 cities and towns. There were 697 accidental and undetermined opiate-involved overdose deaths in the state in 2015, of which 639 involved Connecticut residents, according to data from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.
As part of International Overdose Awareness Day, state officials and lawmakers gathered to raise awareness of the crisis, to remember those who lost their lives, and to promote access to the life-saving reversal drug Naloxone, also known by its brand name, Narcan.
Hope Kuss Auerbach said her daughter would not be alive today if she hadn’t been carrying Naloxone, which was administered to her after she overdosed. Auerbach said her daughter had gotten sober and thought she was strong enough to hang out with her friends who were using. Turns out she wasn’t.
“It’s after times of abstinence that people are most susceptible to overdose,” Auerbach said.
She said she knows the argument that after getting clean they shouldn’t go back to using, but unfortunately addiction is a “complex, frustrating, and irrational disease.”
But “to me, OD and death seem like a pretty stiff penalty for a slip,” Auerbach said.
Connecticut has made great strides in fighting the epidemic over the past few years, including distribution of Naloxone by pharmacists, but “while so much good has happened it’s pretty fragmented,” Shawn Lang, deputy director of AIDS Connecticut, said Wednesday.
Lang said there’s a need for uniform data collection regarding overdoses. Currently, the state police are required to submit a form to the Department of Correction, but there is no such form for first responders.
Lang said Naloxone should be more widely available because it simply saves lives without any side effects.
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said he took a 15-minute course and is certified to administer the opioid reversal drug, which he carries with him in his vehicle.
“If I can do it, believe me, anyone can do it,” Blumenthal said.
He said it is an epidemic and an overdose is possible with anyone because of substances now on the street like fentanyl.
“This danger will only increase. It won’t diminish,” Blumenthal said.
He said that’s why everyone has to be trained and ready.
However, accessing these opioid reversal drugs is not getting easier based on the pricing of the products.
Blumenthal said the price has doubled and in some cases tripled and it’s hindered the ability of first responders to maintain a supply of Naloxone.
“Families who want to be prepared, but don’t know when they may need this life-saving drug, price hikes are a major obstacle,” Blumenthal said.
Insurance coverage is still lagging and Blumenthal said he has yet to receive a response from the drug manufacturer regarding its pricing practices.
In April, Amphastar Pharmaceuticals Inc. reached a settlement with Connecticut, which gives the state a $6 rebate for every dose of naloxone bought by state.
There’s a new nasal spray as well as the auto-injector version of the drug. The prices on the drugs vary widely between $120 to $3,500, according to Lang and Blumenthal.
But an even greater enemy in the fight against addiction may be “stigma and shame,” according to Blumenthal.
“All that’s needed for the triumph of stigma and shame is for good people to do nothing,” Blumenthal said. “And we cannot be inert.”
The Connecticut Department of Public Health has distributed approximately 9,200 overdose prevention kits since 2014 through the agency’s overdose prevention, education, and Naloxone access campaign.
Naloxone, or Narcan, is a medication that reverses the symptoms of a drug overdose. Since 2014, over 60 overdoses have been reversed with the overdose prevention kits distributed through the Public Health Department’s Syringe Exchange and OPEN Access CT programs.
The Department of Consumer Protection also unveiled a new interactive website Wednesday that allows residents to locate a pharmacist who is able to dispense Naloxone.
Consumer Protection Commissioner Jonathan Harris suggested those seeking the opioid reversal drug should call first to make sure the pharmacist who is trained to dispense the Naloxone is available and that it’s in stock.