As the U.S. Senate considers a health care bill that some say would drastically harm the efforts to stop opioid deaths, the epidemic shows little promise of slowing its deadly toll this year, the state’s chief medical examiner said.
During a summit Monday that brought together first responders, community providers, lawmakers and others at Housatonic Community College, officials said fatal overdoses continue at an alarming rate and the need for resources continues to grow.
“Subjectively, I can tell you the accidental deaths are not decreasing. We see at least two or three deaths a day, sometimes it’s five or six,” Dr. James Gill, the chief medical examiner, said.
Gill doesn’t have the official numbers for the first six months of this year, but he said that it’s not slowing down.
“This crisis is getting worse, not better, despite all the work and effort we are putting into it. The numbers are heading in the wrong direction,” U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy said.
The summit came at a time when the U.S. Senate is considering a health-care bill that would hurt the efforts to combat the deadly crisis, Blumenthal said.
“As you know the process in Washington, always somewhat surreal these days, has gone from total secrecy to total chaos. … We know for sure that drastic cuts in investment and funding, resources necessary to your work, are coming unless we work to stop it,” Blumenthal said.
Connecticut has seen an increase in fatal overdoses from opioids, fueled in part by the growing prevalence of fentanyl, a powerful synthetic, officials said.
Gill said that opioids were present in 93 percent of the 917 people who died last year from overdoses. Fentanyl was present in 483 deaths, a steep increase from previous years.
Gill said autopsies are showing other powerful analogues of fentanyl, such as carfentanil, which is about100 times stronger. He believes official mid-year overdose numbers would not be available until the end of the summer.
Giving a larger perspective, Bertha Madras, a Harvard Medical School professor who serves on President Trump’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, said: “Our nation faces a very major challenge with the opioid crisis. … The issue is that it’s made in America.”
She added: “We are currently a nation awash with opioid pills. … Reducing the opioid pills is a difficult challenge, but not insurmountable.”
As the numbers of deaths climbed by the hundreds every year in Connecticut, those facing the crisis have said there’s a greater need for resources for treatment and prevention.
“Our goal is not to maintain the status quo but vastly expand the resources available because that’s what’s needed to meet this epidemic,” Blumenthal said. “Everyone has been touched by this epidemic.”
Connecticut has received some federal grant dollars in recent months to address the problem. In June, officials announced that the state was given $3.1 million to provide youth and their families access to long-term treatment.
Both Blumenthal and Murphy think Republicans are getting the message that the health-care bill moving through the Senate could damage efforts to stymie the opioid epidemic, which they think could lead the bill to fail.
“[The bill] would be ruinous to the addiction treatment system in this country,” Murphy said. “A big reason to why the Republican health-care bill is falling apart is because this epidemic is hitting Democratic states and Republican states and Republican senators don’t want to vote for a bill that that is going to dramatically curtail the resources they have to fight this epidemic.”
As Senators Consider Health Care Bill, Opioid Crisis Continues Deadly Toll In Connecticut