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As COVID-19 Claims Lives, 2020 Has Also Been A Deadly Year For Opioids In Connecticut

A panel of medical and public health experts said Friday that accidental drug deaths from opioids are spiking in Connecticut this year compared to 2019. 

“One thing we are hearing is because of the pandemic, because of increased isolation, concerns about employment, concerns about health or even food -- that those stresses, some of those stresses, may be contributing to some of the spikes that we’re seeing in overdoses,” said Miriam Delphin-Rittmon, commissioner of the state’s Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.

Delphin-Rittmon spoke during a roundtable call with U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn) and Connecticut Attorney General William Tong. 

During Friday’s panel discussion, Dr. James Gill, Connecticut’s chief medical examiner, said there were 1,200 deaths due to accidental drug intoxications in 2019. 

He said the state expects more than 1,300 by the end of 2020, with the vast majority of those deaths tied to opioids.

“Fentanyl has become the opioid of choice,” Gill said. “Over 90 percent of the deaths due to accidental drug intoxications are due to opioids, and about 85 percent of those are from fentanyl.”

Gill said accidental overdose deaths peaked in April, the same month he said Connecticut recorded the most deaths thus far from COVID-19.

Last week, two members of the Sackler family, which owns OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma, appeared before a federal House committee where they were questioned by a panel of lawmakers. The Sacklers have acknowledged the drug had a role in the nation’s opioid epidemic, but they stopped short of apologizing or admitting wrongdoing. 

This story contains information from the Associated Press.

Patrick Skahill is a reporter and digital editor at Connecticut Public. Prior to becoming a reporter, he was the founding producer of Connecticut Public Radio's The Colin McEnroe Show, which began in 2009. Patrick's reporting has appeared on NPR's Morning Edition, Here & Now, and All Things Considered. He has also reported for the Marketplace Morning Report. He can be reached by phone at 860-275-7297 or by email: pskahill@ctpublic.org.
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