Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal at the East Hartford Police Department speaking about the opioid legislation (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie)

HARTFORD, CT — The number of accidental drug overdose deaths in Connecticut is expected to exceed 1,000 by the end of the year, but a new report shows it seems to be leveling off instead of growing.

A report released by the state Office of the Chief Medical Examiner Thursday found there have been 515 accidental intoxication deaths during the first six months of 2018; that projects to a full-year total of 1,030.

If those numbers hold true, that would actually be a slight decrease in the number of overdose deaths in 2017, which were 1,038.

The numbers of overdose deaths have skyrocketed since 2012 when 357 died, followed by 495 in 2013, 568 in 2014, 729 in 2015, 917 in 2016, and 1038 in 2017.

Further bad news is that the numbers show the use of fentanyl in any drug overdose death continues to rise.

Of the 515 deaths in the first months of this year, fentanyl was found to be involved of 370. For the year, the state is projecting that number to be 740 — in other words 70 percent of the overdose deaths in the state will be due, in part, to fentanyl.

In 2017, fentanyl was found in 677 of the 1,038 people who died of drug overdoses.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid drug 30 to 50 times more powerful than heroin — either by itself or with at least one other drug.

The U.S. Senate is expected to pass legislation this week that reduces the amount of fentanyl being shipped through the postal service.

The Senate bill has bipartisan support, but is woefully short on funding. It spends about $1.5 billion, which U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said this week is far short of what Congress needs to spend to help put an end to the epidemic.

The report from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner also states that cocaine was also present in 170 of the deaths so far this year, or about a third. For the year that number is projected to reach 340.

Last year, cocaine was found in 347 of the 1,038 people who died of drug overdoses.

At a roundtable discussion last week in West Haven about substance abuse and mental health issues, experts and politicians said finding money to fight the drug abuse epidemic is front and center.

“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.”

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.”