NAUGATUCK — Opioid use in Connecticut is an epidemic that is spiraling out of control. That’s the picture that state and local officials painted during a frank forum on opioids Sept. 29 at Naugatuck High School.
“It knows no bounds. It is literally a crisis,” state Rep. David Labriola, R-Oxford, said. “It is happening at literally epidemic rates.”
The forum, hosted by Labriola, state Rep. Rosa Rebimbas, R-Naugatuck, and state senators Joe Crisco, D-Woodbridge, and Joan Hartley, D-Waterbury, brought together addiction specialists, local prosecutors, medical personnel, and community leaders to have a forthright discussion on opioid use.
In 2015, 729 people in Connecticut died from drug overdoses; 255 were due to prescription opioid pills, according to data from the state chief medical examiner. In 2014, 568 people in Connecticut died from drug overdoses.
As the number of deaths mount, so to do the number of people seeking treatment for opioid addiction.
Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services Chief of Staff Michael Michaud said his department services over 60,000 people a year for substance abuse issues. The number of people in treatment for opioid addiction this year is on track to surpass 2015 numbers, he said.
That trend can be seen in Naugatuck, as well.
In 2011, the department had 106 people from Naugatuck in treatment for opioid addiction, Michaud said. That number rose to 150 in 2015, he said.
“It’s good that more people are getting into treatment, but it is reflective of how many more people are using opioids,” Michaud said.
State’s Attorney Maureen Platt sees the effects of opioid addiction every day in her job.
“An enormous percentage of criminal activity in this jurisdiction is related to the use of such drugs. Certainly an enormous percentage of our burglaries, our robberies, and our home invasions,” Platt said. “The violence in many communities can be traced directly to people who have become addicted to these medications.”
Naugatuck police Det. Kevin Zainc said the department has been working with state and federal agencies to combat crime related to opioids. However, the sale of the drugs continues to increase, he said.
“While we try as hard as we can every day to do this we just don’t seem to be able to keep up with the amount of drugs that are being sold to people,” Zainc said.
In an effort to combat the increasing number of overdoses, the state made Narcan, also known as Naxolene, available for first responders. Narcan is used to treat opioid overdose.
“We’ve had less and less people die in front of us as a result of that,” Zainc said. “This year alone we had a couple dozen overdoses in which we were able to administer Narcan and save the life of that individual.”
Zainc said there have been three people in Naugatuck so far this year that died from an opioid overdose.
“It is something that is taking place in our community that is growing. It is spiraling somewhat out of control,” Zainc said.
The forum drew approximately 25 attendees. Most attendees were either doctors or from local organizations in the borough.
Members of the audience asked why the state has been cutting Drug Abuse Resistance Education, known as D.A.R.E., out of the school systems.
Central Naugatuck Valley Regional Action Council Director Jennifer DeWitt said evidence shows that D.A.R.E. works if the program is administered in every grade level. However, state funding cuts forced it to be cut back to just two years, she said.
“Unfortunately the studies that came out on D.A.R.E. when it was implemented at only one or two grade levels actually showed there was an opposite effect. It actually peaked interest up to three years later after students had gone through it,” DeWitt said.
Platt said the solution to the opioid problem will require a “multiple discipline approach,” with multiple organizations and legislators cooperating. She said the state can’t continue to do what it has been doing if it wants change.
“I know one thing. Whatever we are all doing, it is not enough. This problem is not getting better, it is getting worse,” Platt said.