Hard Times As Connecticut Tries To Slow Opioid Crisis

Jun 21, 2017

Connecticut’s drug overdose crisis isn’t slowing down. Elected officials are raising the alarm.

It’s a grim outlook for the federal bipartisan task force charged with trying to slow the opioid crisis.

One of its members, Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal, calls his state the epicenter of the problem.

The Democrat says it’s a scary moment as more dangerous opioid threats emerge, including counterfeit OxyContin that contains fentanyl – “highly deadly”. Also carfentanil, which Blumenthal says is 10,000 times more powerful than morphine – “mere contact with it can be life threatening.”

Blumenthal says it’s even been used as an elephant tranquilizer.

“So, it’s got no business being used in people,” Tobin says.

Dr. Daniel Tobin is a professor at Yale University’s School of Medicine and is a leading expert on the opioid crisis.

Tobin says there are more than 240 million prescriptions written for opioids in the U.S, which is enough for every adult in the country to have a bottle.

“Opioid overprescribing and overconsumption of prescription opioids still remains a problem,” Tobin says.

In Connecticut, he says, two people die of a drug overdose every day on average. The state is third per capita in overdose rates.

Tobin and Connecticut Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty, a Democrat from the 5th House District, spoke last week at a panel discussion hosted by The Connecticut Bar Association titled “The Opioid Crisis in Connecticut: Medical and Legal Perspectives.”

“Trying to understand what is happening in our society right now,” Esty says, “and they sure will have … I am sure some people in that room had family members who are now substance abusers who are trapped in the snare of opioid addiction.”

The takeaway:

“Sadly, it’s still on the upswing if you look at the overall numbers,” Esty says.

The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner says accidental drug overdoses caused 917 deaths in Connecticut in 2016, an increase of 25 percent over those killed by drugs a year earlier.

And that office lost some of its certification in February.

“Because they could not keep up,” Esty says.

Esty served on the conference committee that created the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, signed into law last July. Esty is now a member of the Bipartisan Task Force to Combat the Heroin Epidemic.

And while that legislation is hailed as a possible turning point to direct resources to combat the opioid problem, Esty says more needs to be done on an educational level.

“We need to learn more and that people, part of what we need is better education on the part of the public – for parents, for students,” Esty says.

Tobin says it’s doctors who need to be reeducated.

“Even though we are wising up to the dangers of opioid overprescribing and overuse, in 2016 hydrocodone was still the fourth most prescribed medication,” Tobin says. That’s the active ingredient in the medication Vicodin.”

Esty agrees doctors need to be involved.

“Say oral surgeons or dentists or primary care providers who after someone has surgery or strained their back they might not realize as much as they should how powerful some of these medications are; they might not realize how quickly they become addictive,” Esty says. 

Tobin says professional development for doctors can come at a price, too.

“You know, it’s like the squeezing the balloon phenomenon – so people are now turning to where it’s a little more accessible and cheaper, which is often heroin,” Tobin says. “You know, you try to address one part of the problem and it really bounces over in another place.”

The effort to build a systematic approach to countering the epidemic could get hung up, Senator Blumenthal says, under the White House budget proposal, which calls for cutting 95 percent of the Office of National Drug Control Policy’s funding.

“More investment of resources, not less, is what’s required for these deadly drugs and the spread of the opioid epidemic around this country,” Blumenthal says. “It’s a public health crisis.”

Tobin is calling for regulations to slow down the supply of prescription opiates and better access to care for addicts.