Number of fatal overdoses spike in state

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The number of fatal overdoses in the state reached 1,200 in 2019, the highest number ever as the scourge of fentanyl continues to claim more lives.

The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner recently released totals for 2019 that showed an 18% increase from the previous year when there were 1,017 fatal overdoses.

In 2012, the state had 357 overdose deaths. Of the 1,200 fatalities, 1,127, or 94%, involved some type of opiates and 979, or 82%, involved fentanyl.

There were 16 fatal overdoses reported in Naugatuck, four in Beacon Falls and two in Prospect, according to the totals.

Out of the 1,200 fatal overdoses, 14 were Naugatuck residents and 13 of the cases involved fentanyl. Four Beacon Falls residents and one Prospect resident died of fatal overdoses.

Chesprocott Health District Health Director Maura Esposito said she’s not surprised by the numbers.

“I would like to see those numbers at zero, there’s no need to have this,” Esposito said. “The communities are working the best they can, but with limited funding, we can only do so much.”

Chesprocott is the health district for Cheshire, Prospect and Wolcott. Esposito feels the state should better fund prevention efforts in smaller towns.

“We just need to work more,” Esposito said. “The funding is all going to the big cities. Our state (legislators) need to know we still need the funding for the schools and communities.”

Jessica Stelmaszek, director of health for the Naugatuck Valley Health District, which serves six Valley towns, including Beacon Falls and Naugatuck, said officials are working on a number of initiatives in the Valley to combat the opioid epidemic.

The Chesprocott Health District, Naugatuck Valley Health District and the Pomperaug District Department of Health are working together and sharing data through the Regional Opioids Alliance Data Sharing (ROADS) funded by the Connecticut Community Foundation. ROADS helps health officials look at data sources, efforts in the community, where there are gaps and where they need to improve, Stelmaszek said.

Health officials are also using the Overdose Detection Mapping Application Program (ODMAP), which provides near-real time data on when first responders report suspected overdoses, and EpiCenter, an electronic reporting system that provides data on the number of people admitted to hospitals for drug overdoses, to track fatal and non-fatal overdoses.

In Naugatuck, the Naugatuck Police Department has launched the Police Assisted Addiction Recovery Initiative (PAARI), which is designed to connect people who have overdosed or are at risk of overdosing with rehabilitation services in the community.

“This opioid crisis is affecting every one, some more than others. We have a strong sense of community,” Stelmaszek said. “I think we’ll continue to see data trends. We are hopeful that through all of our great initiatives, we’ll be able to make a positive impact.”

The statistics from the medical examiner’s office showed a vast range of people who died of overdoses. The ages of the deceased ranged from 17 to 74 with the average age of 43.

About a quarter of the victims were female. They were found at home, in motels, parking lots, gas stations and even at a church.

A new type of drug showed up in autopsies last year. Xylazine, a veterinary tranquilizer, was found in 71 deaths last year and none the prior years. Three of the 13 fatal overdoses cases of Naugatuck residents involved Xylazine.

“This is likely being added locally as an adulterant,” said Dr. James Gill, chief medical examiner, in an email.