HARTFORD, CT — Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ned Lamont was joined on the campaign trail Wednesday by Patrick Kennedy, the former Rhode Island Congressman and CEO of the behavioral health nonprofit Kennedy Forum.
Lamont and Kennedy, the son of the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, were touring InterCommunity’s detox facility in Hartford.
Kennedy told a group of about 20 patients in the cafeteria eating lunch that he was not only a former alcoholic, but a drug addict who has “walked every path to recovery that you can walk.”
He said much of his addiction was “untreated mental illness of a mood disorder.” He said the only way he stays sober is by attending a 12-step recovery meeting every morning.
Kennedy, who sits on boards of companies offering opioid addiction drugs or treatments, effortlessly transitioned to telling the crowd that those who they elect will have sway over access to addiction treatment.
“Ned Lamont is one of those who is going to offer more access,” Kennedy said.
He said the least popular people in society are those with alcoholism and drug addiction and mental health problems.
“They are the first people who are cut when it comes to government services. They are the first people insurance companies deny access to care for,” Kennedy said. “And you know why people they’re the least popular people in our society.”
Kennedy said when someone like Lamont says he’s going to “stand with the least amongst us it should matter to you because it’s a sign of who this man is as a human being and we’re missing that in our political leadership.”
InterCommunity officials said they haven’t turned anyone away from treatment, even those without insurance.
But the opioid epidemic is not slowing and the state has cut funding.
A report released by the state Office of the Chief Medical Examiner last week 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.
The state grant InterCommunity receives from the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services was cut by $687,000 last fiscal year.
Tyler Booth, chief operating officer for Intercommunity, said further spending cuts would be “catastrophic” for the organization. He said the funding helps pay for services its delivers when Medicaid or private insurance doesn’t cover the cost of care. About 80 percent of the patients have private insurance or Medicaid. Medicare doesn’t cover any treatment.
The organization serves 7,000 people a year and is one of the largest detox facilities in the state.
Lamont said he was there to remind people that these are services that he would prioritize and maintain.
“It’s an epidemic you just can’t sweep under the rug,” Lamont said.
However, he said maintaining funding to organizations like this isn’t possible if “you yank $11 billion out of our budget.”
That was a reference to Republican Bob Stefanowski’s plan to eliminate the personal income tax over the next eight years.
Kendall Marr, a spokesman for Stefanowski, said Stefanowski is committed to ensuring that the state adequately invests in substance abuse and mental health programs.
“Given the increasing rates of opioid abuse and drug overdose deaths in our state, it is absolutely critical that we adequately fund these core services,” Marr said.
He added that the campaign believes the Department of Public Health and the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services also need to place a greater focus on appropriate medication-assisted therapy (MAT) programs and that drug dealers should be serving longer sentences.
InterCommunity is an organization that is invested in medication-assisted therapy programs.