Jack Kramer / ctnewsjunkie photo
Gov. Ned Lamont at Monday’s press conference (Jack Kramer / ctnewsjunkie photo)

HARTFORD, CT— State officials unveiled a couple of digital weapons in their ongoing battle to fight the opioid epidemic Monday.

During a news conference at Saint Francis Hospital and Medical Center, Gov. Ned Lamont, Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz, state agency heads, hospital officials and others joined others to launch the “LiveLOUD – Live Life with Opioid Use Disorder” statewide awareness campaign, as well as the new Naloxone and Overdose Response (NORA) smartphone app.

“We’re getting our government a little more digital,” Lamont said. “This is how we make government serve people.”

Administered by the Department of Public Health, the NORA app is designed to help save lives when confronted with an opioid overdose by educating residents on how to administer naloxone and using a user’s GPS data to find nearby locations to obtain the medication. The app, which is free for all users, functions through the web browser of most smartphones.

“Carrying naloxone, with assistance from the NORA app, empowers every resident of Connecticut to potentially save someone’s life,” Public Health Commissioner Renee D. Coleman-Mitchell said.

“If those most likely to witness an opioid overdose – such as friends and family – have access to this critical treatment and know how to use it, Connecticut can see a much higher chance of survival for those who overdose,” she added.

The Department of Mental Health & Addiction Services (DMHAS) has at the same time launched LiveLOUD, a series of social media, radio, transit, and billboard spots directed to those who are actively using heroin or misusing prescription opioids, their families and communities.

Connecticut residents will start seeing ads offering support, encouraging treatment and educating on treatment options, officials said.

“Our objective is to send a message of hope – that treatment options are available, and Connecticut cares about those suffering, their families, and the communities who are battling this epidemic,” DMHAS Commissioner Miriam E. Delphin-Rittmon said. 

Last year, the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) reported that there were 1,017 deaths in Connecticut due to accidental overdose, 93 percent of which were opioid-related.

That number is actually a slight decrease from the 1038 who died 2017, but still nearly triple of the number of accidental overdoses reported by the OCME in 2012.

“While the number of opioid-related deaths in Connecticut has leveled, even one overdose death is still too many,” Bysiewicz said. “Educating the public is a critical component of addressing the opioid crisis and we believe the LiveLOUD campaign and NORA smartphone app will make it easier for people across the state to learn about what services are available to them.”

There was no dollar amount given for either of the programs. But their launch comes at a time when state funding for substance abuse treatment programs offered through the nonprofit community have been cut.

At the same time state officials were making their announcement, the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities (CCM) released a report that showed towns and cities have taken many steps on their own to address the crisis impacting their communities.

“Municipal officials believe that this crisis shows no signs yet of abating in Connecticut,” Ridgefield First Selectman Rudy Marconi said. “This is a bonafide public health crisis across the 169 towns and cities, and local public safety and health personnel are the troops leading the fight.”

Some examples CCM said of community actions, include:

Bridgeport – Spending an estimated $500,000 in this fiscal year between the Health Department, Fire, and Police for supplies, services and responding staff-time on overdose situations;

Torrington – Opioid-related costs totaled nearly $450,000 over the five year period from 2012 to 2017;

North Haven – Has spent over $190,000 annually on opioid-addiction service related to counseling, training and Narcan supplies;

East Haven – Increased costs for overtime and personnel costs for investigations; cost of protective equipment to handle drug evidence; and EMS expenditures for Narcan;

Fairfield – Has spent over $17,000 this fiscal year and over $50,000 in the last five years on Narcan, counseling and other education programs; and during the past five years the Health Department has spent an estimated 450-500 hours on work related to the opioid crisis. including oversight of its Prevention Corps staff, data collection, Narcan training, opioid awareness forums, and other meetings. 

“CCM understands the seriousness of the opioid epidemic,” CCM Executive Director Joe DeLong, said.