HARTFORD, CT (Updated 7:30 p.m.) – After seeing a small downturn in 2018 in the number of accidental intoxication deaths, the number who died jumped 18% to hit a record high 1,200 in 2019, according to a report released Friday by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.
The 1,200 deaths marks the highest annual number recorded since the state started tracking such numbers.
As has been the case in recent years, the addition of fentanyl to any other drug continues to be the main reason for the spike in fatalities.
Fentanyl was found in the bodies of 979 of the 1,200 who died last year – an increase of 200 over the 1,017 who died with fentanyl in the bodies in 2018.
The number of people who died from drug overdoses who had at least some fentanyl in their system has gone from 14 in 2012 to 979 last year.
Also increasing dramatically the past few years were deaths by people with a combination of fentanyl and cocaine in their systems. The number of deaths with a combination of those drugs went from 143 in 2016 to 393 last year.
The veterinary tranquilizer Xylazine, which is used as a cutting agent with other drugs, was found in 71 deaths in 2019; it was found in no deaths any other year, including 2018.
For those who are on the front lines fighting the epidemic, the numbers have them feeling frustrated and angry.
“These numbers are out of control. It’s maddening and heartbreaking,” said Sue Kruczek, a Guilford mother who lost her son to a drug overdose in 2013 and has been one of Connecticut’s leading spokespeople in the fight against the epidemic.
“We have done some good work in Connecticut, like educating people on the dangers and highly addictive powers of opioids, by limiting prescriptions, utilizing the prescription monitoring system and requiring all first responders to carry Narcan,” Kruczek said. “That I know has saved so many lives. We will never know how many. But, I’m sure it’s huge.”
But, Kruczek added: “We need serious intervention after someone has overdosed and been brought back with Narcan. They are woken up but now their whole body is in withdrawal. Then they are given numbers to call to try to get into a facility. It’s absolutely ridiculous. They should be brought in to start the detox process, put on medicated assisted treatment until an appropriate plan of treatment can be put in place.”
Kruczek said a giant step forward, in her opinion, would be mandating, statewide, a so-called “mandatory hold” program. “Even three days to properly detox and get on some sort of medicated assisted treatment would allow someone to get a plan of action in place,” Kruczek said.
The Medical Examiner’s 2019 report shows that drug overdoses impacted both young and old. Officials said the age range of people who died of a drug overdose were from teenagers to senior citizens. And while the deaths occurred in all size communities in the state, as in past reports, the largest number of deaths were in bigger cities.
The agency’s report chronicles the number of accidental intoxication deaths for the past eight years across the entire state.
The new fatality figures also drew a sharp statement from Gian-Carl Casa, President & CEO of the CT Community Nonprofit Alliance. The Alliance’s membership includes mental health and substance abuse treatment providers across the state. The group has been advocating for additional funding, including a few advertisements that have appeared on CTNewsJunkie.com in an effort to reach the state’s decision-makers.
“Connecticut’s community nonprofits have been on the front lines of the opioid crisis every day, struggling to keep substance abuse treatment programs open and staffed, despite stagnant or reduced funding,” Casa said. The statement included a link to a white paper calling for the release of $461 million to fund nonprofit community service providers.
“Across the state, community nonprofits have not gotten a funding increase since 2007 and grant funding has been cut by almost 30% since 2013,” Casa said. “The overdose fatality numbers are shocking, but not surprising to providers. Our members have the know-how to combat this crisis; they need the funding to do it.”
Department of Consumer Protection spokeswoman Lora Rae Anderson said: “The numbers released by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner are saddening, and our hearts are with the families who are touched by the struggle of addiction.”
“We will continue to do everything we can at the Department of Consumer Protection to ensure that practitioners, pharmacists, and patients alike have the tools they need to prescribe and use medication as safely as possible,” Anderson said. “We are grateful for our partners at other state agencies, and in law enforcement that work to improve the lives of people in our state, because if we’re going to make progress, this must continue to be a joint effort.”
Asked whether the department was surprised to see such a spike in accidental drug death numbers when deaths had actually decreased the year previously, Anderson said that predicting such trends is difficult if not impossible, especially “considering the proliferation of drugs on the black market.”