WEST HAVEN, CT — There was unanimous agreement during a discussion last week about mental health in Connecticut: there is no end in sight to the opioid crisis, and finding funding to battle the epidemic won’t be easy.
The CT Community Nonprofit Alliance, Keep the Promise Coalition, Mental Health Connecticut and NAMI Connecticut, hosted the roundtable at West Haven’s APT Foundation.
The opioid epidemic death totals keeps climbing across the country and Connecticut is no exception as more than 1,000 people died in 2017 from the crisis.
Nationwide, the Center for Disease Control’s provisional data shows that 72,855 people will likely died of drug overdose during the 12-month period ending Nov. 30, 2017 — a rise of 13.2 percent over the previous 12-month period. The agency reports that 49,466 of those deaths involved at least one opioid.
Overall drug deaths in the state have nearly tripled over six years, from 357 in 2012 to 1,038 in 2017, according to data from the Chief Medical Examiner’s Office. Of those 1,038 deaths, 677 involved fentanyl — a synthetic opioid drug 30 to 50 times more powerful than heroin — either by itself or with at least one other drug.
“Our message is there is a lot at stake this year,” Connecticut Community Nonprofit Alliance Executive Director Gian-Carl Casa told the gathering.
“Everyone knows the state is still facing a multi-billion budget deficit,” Casa said. “Meanwhile half the budget is off the table due to contractual obligations. It’s our job to fight for as much as we can from the other half,” he said.
But the reality, Casa said, is that while opioid deaths in the state have skyrocketed over the past several years “grant funding (to fight substance) abuse is down 30 percent.”
In 2017, funding for all community-based nonprofit organizations was about $1.42 billion, which is less than a nine percent increase in funding over 15 years. Earlier this year, lawmakers did approve a $14.75 minimum wage for all workers and a one-time, 5-percent raise for workers who make more than $14.75 an hour.
The raises are expected to cost the state about $21.5 million a year after the 50-percent Medicaid reimbursement is applied. With a start date of Jan. 1, 2019, the amount required in fiscal year 2019 would be $11.4 million.
Casa’s comment that people with drug misuse issues cannot be forgotten in the state’s ongoing budget struggles was echoed by CT-APT Foundation Chief Executive Officer Lynn Madden.
APT Foundation is a behavioral health and substance use disorder service provider with clinics in New Haven, North Haven, and Bridgeport, and recently opened a new office in West Haven, the site of Thursday’s discussion.
“People who enter treatment have a much better chance of not overdosing,” Madden said. “We have to improve access to substance abuse treatment.”
APT provides methadone maintenance and detoxification services.
Madden said APT serves 8,000 people in its different locations.
She said last year APT provided close to 350,000 “direct service encounters which include residential care, outpatient treatment for behavioral health and substance use disorders, walk in primary care and psychiatry and medication assisted treatment for the care of those with opioid use disorders.”
Madden and other speakers said one fallacy that continues to be fought by those treating opioid addiction is how money is saved by these programs.
She said those in programs “not surprisingly, spend less time in emergency departments, they’re less of a burden on emergency responders, and they are less inclined to backlog the judicial system.”
At the same time, state spending on these community-based mental health and substance abuse treatment facilities has not increased as rapidly as the need. In fact, state funding has been flat or slowly reduced over the past dozen years for many of these agencies, which many believe save the state money.
Luis Perez president and CEO of Mental Health Connecticut (MHC), a non-profit organization providing advocacy, education, and residential and wellness services, tried to put a positive spin on the day – stating Connecticut has been a leader in fighting substance abuse.
“But our work is not quite done,” Perez said, telling those in the audience that: “Remember we are all human beings” that deserve the best care available.
There were many politicians who took part in the day’s events – including state Comptroller Kevin Lembo, Senate Republican President Len Fasano, R-North Haven, and other state representatives and senators and candidates for those offices in this coming November’s election.
Following a series of short speeches by mental health professionals, the group broke up into small workgroups to discuss mental health parity, workforce shortages, access to treatment, community supports and budgetary needs.
The event was sponsored by the Behavioral Health + Economics Network (BHECON), an initiative led by the National Council for Behavioral Health.