HARTFORD, CT – Gov. Dannel P. Malloy unveiled a series of new suggested measures Thursday to combat the continuing opioid epidemic in the state, including requiring all prescriptions to be filed electronically in an effort to combat fraud.
Malloy, surrounded by families who have been impacted by opioid and/or drug problems and officials who work in the addiction field, held a press conference at Tovio by Advocacy Unlimited, a yoga and wellness studio on Franklin Avenue that works to help those with drug issues.
“We need to chart a clear, action-based path forward as we continue to battle this form of addiction,” Malloy said.
Malloy said the steps he outlined “will build” on the steps the state has already taken to fight the drug crisis that killed nearly 900 people in the state last year.
Specifically, the steps Malloy outlined Thursday, include:
—requiring electronic prescriptions: Currently, prescribers can choose whether to prescribe opioid medication electronically or on paper. Malloy said going totally electronic will “reduce the potential for fraud and create a system of trackable data.”
—facilitating in the destruction of medications: Under current law, only the person prescribed medication or their caregivers can dispose of unused medication. Malloy is proposing to expand this ability to home health care agency nurses.
—allowing patients to refuse opioids: Malloy is proposing to allow patients to include in their medical files a form indicating they do not want opioid treatment.
—expand the requirement to provide information about the risk of addiction to adults: Currently, prescribers are only required to share information on the risk of addiction to minors.
—encourage data sharing among state agencies: Malloy is proposing to ease statutory restrictions on data sharing between state agencies.
Malloy’s suggestions for action at by this year’s legislature comes on the heels of last May when he signed legislation placing a 7-day cap on opioid prescriptions.
That law places a 7-day cap on opioid prescriptions in an effort to reign in what many called the “over-prescribing” of painkillers. There is an exception clause included in the bill for those receiving long-term prescriptions from their doctors allowing them to exceed the 7-day cap.
That legislation also requires first responders to be trained in the use of Narcan and to carry and dispense it. The drug is injected into patients to counter the effects of opioid and heroin overdoses.
“Every city and every town in the country has been touched in some way by substance abuse – and in particular the growing prescription painkiller epidemic,” Malloy said.
“Addiction is a disease, and together we can treat and prevent it,” Malloy continued. “Our work on this front will not be finished until our communities and our families are no longer struggling with the grave costs of this illness.”
The governor said one of the under reported aspects of the opioid epidemic is how “cheap’’ drugs are “compared to my day” to buy on the streets, and, he added, the potency level of the drugs is also much higher than in years past, meaning they’re more dangerous.
Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services Commissioner Miriam Delphin-Rittmon called Malloy “a real champion’’ in the opioid epidemic fight.
“By taking steps to safeguard access to these medications, we are not only helping to prevent prescription painkillers from falling into the wrong hands, but we’re also helping to prevent addiction,” Delphin-Rittmon said.
One of those at Wednesday’s press conference was Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin, whose city has been particularly hard hit by the opioid and heroin epidemic.
“We believe there were 75 deaths in the city of Hartford last year due to this crisis,” Bronin said. “And, another 200 lives were saved only because of the use of Narcan.
Noting that we are still only in the first month of 2017, Bronin added: “Just this year we’ve had eight deaths already – with the latest being yesterday.”
The mayor said that the drug epidemic is a “national crisis’’ that needs “national attention,’’ but he is thankful that Connecticut has a governor and politicians in Washington who recognize the urgency.
Senate Republican President Len Fasano, R-North Haven, applauded Malloy’s proposals, but he also warned against spending cuts that would reduce services going to this population.
“Just as important as these proposals today, our state needs to make a commitment to protect core social services that help individuals who are recovering from addiction,” Fasano said.
Facing a nearly $1.5 billion deficit over the next year, Fasano said “services to help those with drug addictions cannot be slashed as they were in the past.”
Meanwhile, at the press conference Jennifer Kelly, of Tolland, reminded everyone why they were focused on this crisis.
Her story had many in the room in tears.
Justice, her mother said, at age 20 was a college student with a perfect 4.0 grade average.
Then in 2013 things changed. Kelly said her daughter began falling asleep in the middle of the day, spoons were disappearing from the house, she was wearing long sleeve clothes even when the weather was warm.
Finally, Justice told her mother she was a heroin addict.
“I cried for 48 straight hours,” Kelly said. “I didn’t know what to do. I felt like I failed as a parent.”
“If this was any other disease, I would have known where to go for help,” she added.
Over the period of the next year-plus, Kelly said her daughter went through relapses. Eventually Kelly said she couldn’t put up with it anymore, and she kicked her daughter out of her house.
In August of 2015, while still battling her heroin addiction, Justice suffered a catastrophic brain injury.
Today, Kelly said, her daughter lives in a vegetative state with “little likelihood of recovery.”
Kelly said she continues to tell her story because it is important that leaders and parents combat the growing problem. She has launched a support group, “Sharing Without Shame” for parents who have lost a child to addiction.