GUILFORD, CT — A group of state officials took a few seconds Tuesday to bask in the good news that the death rate from the opioid epidemic seems to have finally peaked, but quickly moved on to what new steps the state should be taking to decrease the still staggering fatality rate.
Final numbers for overdose deaths in Connecticut for 2018 are still not in, but indications, state officials said, are that the number should be less than the 1,038 who died in 2017.
That would be the first time in six years that there has been a decrease in drug overdose deaths in Connecticut. Deaths had 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 good news is that more people will not die (in 2018 than 2017),” Rep. Sean Scanlon, D-Guilford, said. “But there is still reason to keep our foot on the gas pedal.”
The roundtable discussion Tuesday was organized by Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz, who is expected to be Gov. Ned Lamont’s point person on fighting the drug epidemic over the next four years.
Besides Bysiewicz and Scanlon, Sen. Christine Cohen, D-Guilford, and Reps. Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, and Noreen Kokoruda, R-Madison, sat in on the panel discussion.
Also taking part in the discussion about the next steps the state should be taking in attacking the drug overdose crisis were parents of children who have either died or are in recovery from drug overdoses, first responders, doctors, a first selectman, and counselors.
“The governor and I want to do everything in our power to address this issue,” Bysiewicz said, adding that while “Connecticut has taken some very important steps forward” there remains more work to do.
Listening to parents talk about the deaths of their children, Bysiewicz said: “I’m a mom — I can’t even imagine what some of you have gone through.”
What parent after parent, and advocate after advocate implored Bysiewicz and the legislators to do — was to do pass legislation that required drug addicts to be held, even if it’s against their will, after being treated — and not released back into the community to possibly go right back to taking drugs.
There are two bills before the Public Health Committee that would allow or require first responders to take a patient to an emergency treatment facility after administering Naloxone as an overdose reversal drug.
Guilford’s Sue Kruczek, who lost her son, Nick, to a drug overdose in 2013, believes the bills are big steps forward in the state’s continuing fight to stem the opioid and heroin drug crisis, which killed about three people a day in Connecticut over the past two years.
“Withdrawal (from Narcan) is so bad. It is like flu times 100,” said Kruczek. She said her son was revived with Naloxone and then allowed to just get up and walk out. Nobody was called or notified. He died later that night of an overdose alone at his apartment.
Another bill that’s been introduced calls for “transportation to a treatment facility which provides medical triage to a hospital after administration of an opioid antagonist.”
The bill, HB 6131, has been introduced by Scanlon, Reps. Michelle Cook, D-Torrington, and Maria Horn, D-Salisbury, and Sen. Kevin Witkos, R-Canton.
The other similar bill, HB 5900, has been introduced by Scanlon, Candelora, Kokoruda.
It “allows a police officer who has a reasonable cause to believe that a person who has a substance use disorder and is dangerous to himself or herself or others or gravely disabled, and in need of immediate care and treatment, to take such person into custody and take or cause such person to be taken to a general hospital for emergency examination.”
Part of the discussion Tuesday involved proactive steps that can be taken by communities as a whole to battle the epidemic — such as having discarded pill drop boxes at police stations and have all police departments and first responders trained and equipped with Narcan.
Guilford Assistant Police Chief Butch Hyatt said the Guilford police department had just all been through training on the use of Narcan but when he told the group that the department still hadn’t been equipped with the overdose reversal drug, many on the panel shook their heads in disbelief.
Another hot-button issue that came up Tuesday was whether the legislature will legalize recreational marijuana.
Madison First Selectman Tom Banisch advised the legislators to proceed with caution on the issue.
“You need to think very carefully before going forward (with legalization),” Banisch said. “We don’t need the money that badly.”
Banisch said he’s a believer that marijuana is a gateway drug that leads to harder drugs and doesn’t believe a state such as Connecticut, with the drug epidemic issue already in the forefront, should be considering legalization.