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Addiction experts call for more funding, compassion to fight opioid epidemic

OVERDOSE
Joe Amon
/
Connecticut Public
Lauren Pristo, network coordinator for the Litchfield County Opiate Task Force, speaks during a news conference at the McCall Center for Behavioral Health in Waterbury, Conn., on Aug. 23, 2022. In 2021, 93% of overdose deaths in Connecticut involved an opioid with 86% involving fentanyl, a synthetic opioid causing deaths in record numbers across the nation.

Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in Connecticut, according to data from the Connecticut Department of Health (DPH). There have been 660 opioid deaths in Connecticut so far in 2022, 86% of which involved fentanyl.

“Fentanyl is in just about every street-purchased drug,” said Lauren Pristo, network coordinator for the Litchfield County Opiate Task Force.

Black people and communities of color are also disproportionately affected by the opioid crisis, according to the DPH, and advocates say outreach can help.

OVERDOSE
Joe Amon
/
Connecticut Public
Mark Jenkins, founder and executive director of the Connecticut Harm Reduction Alliance, listens during a news conference at the McCall Center for Behavioral Health in Waterbury, Conn., Aug. 23, 2022.

“We have evidence of public health responses that work,” said Mark Jenkins, founder of the Connecticut Harm Reduction Alliance. “But we’re just too puritanistic. It offends our morals. How many people have to die before we start thinking outside the box?”

Though Connecticut is nearing its goal for the distribution of the opioid overdose antidote known as Narcan or the generic naloxone, such interventions are only effective if someone is around to intervene, said Peter Canning, emergency medical services coordinator at UConn Health. In around 90% of overdoses, he said, the overdose victim is the only person in the room. However, in about half of these cases, Canning said there is somebody relatively close by who could intervene if they were aware of the drug use.

OVERDOSE
Joe Amon
/
Connecticut Public
Peter Canning, EMS coordinator at UConn Health, answers questions during a news conference at the McCall Center for Behavioral Health in Waterbury, Conn., Aug. 23, 2022.

“Law and stigma have driven them behind those doors and into the shadows,” Canning said. “We need to find a way to keep people from using behind locked doors.”

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut acknowledged the role that police play in overdose prevention, but he also advocated for an approach that does not solely rely on law enforcement.

“Law enforcement deserves more support -- there’s no doubt about it,” Blumenthal said. “But we’re not going to jail our way out of this epidemic.”

Blumenthal pledged to push for more funding for opioid education and treatment in the next federal budget bill.

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