ANSONIA — Jared Heon, chief of Ansonia Rescue Medical Services, remembers when they first put Narcan medication on their ambulances to save people from overdosing on opioids.
“Within 19 hours we had a triple-overdose at one residence, where there was a successful outcome for all three,” Heon said. “The overdoses were discovered by a 14-year-old child coming home from school.”
Such is the life on the front lines of the opioid crisis.
Heon relayed his story during a roundtable discussion Monday about opioid addiction at the Cornell Scott-Hill Health Center on Wakelee Avenue — one of the places people with substance abuse problems can go to get help.
Data-driven stories from the Connecticut Health Investigative Network (C-HIT), a nonprofit news site, have shoved the lower Naugatuck Valley into the addiction discussion.
A series of stories in 2015 by the late investigate journalist Lisa Chedekel revealed that Heather Alfonso, a nurse practitioner at a pain clinic in Derby, was prescribing Subsys, a pain-killing fentanyl spray, at alarmingly high rates in Connecticut.
Alfonso eventually admitted taking kickbacks from sales representatives from Insys Therapeutics, an opioid manufacturer, that allowed her to double her $82,000 salary. She testified against one of the company’s employees during a federal trial in Boston, according to The Hartford Courant.
More recently, C-HIT delved into data from The Washington Post that showed the CVS in Ansonia sold 5.4 million pills from 2006 to 2012.
“That’s 272 pills for every woman, man and child in Ansonia,” the article noted.
CVS pointed out the store is in a heavily populated area and that the company has internal procedures in place to monitor what’s happening with the pharmacies.
The C-HIT articles were repeatedly mentioned by the politicians who attended Monday’s opioid roundtable.
“This epidemic caused more than 1,000 deaths in our state,” Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz said. “Though we made progress, losing one person is too much. We’ve held these roundtables throughout the state. We need to fight at all levels to deal with this difficult issue.”
Drug deaths in Connecticut went from 357 deaths in 2012 to 1,038 in 2017. Of the 2017 deaths, 677 involved fentanyl.
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal called opioids a public menace.
“The federal government must do more,” he said. “The federal government has failed to provide the resources and the commitment.”
Blumenthal criticized the U.S. Postal Service for not doing enough to prevent fentanyl from coming into the U.S. through mail.
His comments come after a Washington Post investigative story revealed that fentanyl dealers in China looking to sell to the American underground market recommended using the U.S. Postal Service to customers because the controls were so lacking.
Just this week President Trump took to Twitter to “order” the postal service to do more.
Blumenthal said there are no signs of a slowdown in the amount of fentanyl coming into the U.S. from China and Mexico.
“It’s becoming worse in real time, right before our eyes,” Blumenthal said.
Bysiewicz noted drug companies are being held accountable, to some extent.
The state has a lawsuit pending against Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin.
On Monday, the State of Oklahoma won a $572 million against Johnson & Johnson “for its role starting and exacerbating Oklahoma’s ongoing opioid epidemic,” according to Oklahoma Watch, a nonprofit news site.
Connecticut’s lawsuit against Purdue Pharma is similar to the Oklahoma lawsuit, including the fact the Nutmeg state alleges the drug company used deceptive marketing practices to push pills.
Monday’s roundtable discussion was wide-ranging and also touched upon bipartisan efforts state lawmakers have taken to combat the addiction epidemic, from tougher laws to increased access to rehabilitation beds to drop boxes for unused medication.
The many others speaking on the issue included state House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, state Sen. George Logan, state Rep. Kara Rochelle, state Rep. Sean Scanlon, state Rep. Nicole Klarides-Ditria and Cornell Scott-Hill representatives CEO Michael Taylor and Dr. Ece Tek.