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As inmates are discharged from the Department of Correction, the state has been providing them with Narcan nasal spray kits to pre-emptively try to save their lives in case of opioid overdose.

The kits, which cost $76 each, are used to counteract the effects of an overdose. DOC spokeswoman Karen Martucci said the department has issued 768 two-dose boxes over the past year. The department has set aside $100,854 for the program with $77,740 coming from federal funding.

“There’s an overwhelming connection between those that have fatally overdosed and those that had an inmate number, meaning they’ve been in the system at some point,” Martucci said Thursday. “That tells us that we have a high-risk population.”

People leaving prison are uniquely vulnerable to dangerous overdoses. Many have had little to no access to opioids for the duration of their incarceration, meaning their tolerance is lower than they remember. The prevalence of more potent synthetic opioids like fentanyl also poses a threat. A study conducted in Washington state found former inmates 10 times more likely to overdose than other Washington residents.

Addiction Services Deputy Warden Sandra Violette said the Narcan program has been running for about a year. Departing inmates at every jail and prison in the state are offered a Narcan kit.

“Pretty much anybody is eligible to get a Narcan kit,” Violette said. Inmates are made aware “if you would like a Narcan kit, all you have to do is ask for it upon discharge.”

The state has recently increased scrutiny on the impact of opioid overdoses in Connecticut. A 2018 law requiring emergency medical services to report overdoses to the Department of Public Health resulted in its first report last Wednesday. It found that between June 1, 2019 and May 31, 2020, EMS teams responded to 4,505 suspected overdoses. Three hundred thirty-seven proved fatal.

Naloxone, the generic name for Narcan, was reportedly administered 3,609 times that year, with bystanders administering it in 15% of the reported cases. The drug was used in 83.5% of reported overdoses that did not result in death and 42% of fatal cases.

Inmates receive training on how to use the nasal spray. They’re encouraged to pass the information along to their family in case a relative finds them in the midst of an overdose.

“You save somebody’s life, is what you’re doing, with a fairly easy intervention,” Martucci said.

The Narcan program is part of a broader effort within the department to treat drug dependence as an illness rather than a crime, she said. That effort includes expanding access to methadone treatment at more facilities.

“Years ago, relapsing and using drugs would bring you right back to prison. Those days are long gone,” she said. “The first option is treatment rather than to reincarcerate.”