Officials from local health departments have newly-available overdose data in their arsenal as they work to combat the opioid overdose crisis.
Since June 1, the Statewide Opioid Reporting Directive has required all ambulance companies in Connecticut to report to the Poison Control Center at the University of Connecticut Health Center in Farmington every time they treat someone who is suspected of overdosing.
The health directors at the Chesprocott, Naugatuck Valley and Pomperaug District health departments have been able to access information about those incidents, notice when someone overdoses in the towns they serve, and spread that information to municipal officials and the public to encourage a response to those trends.
Last spring, the Connecticut Community Foundation approved a grant for the health districts to share information about the opioid epidemic and invest in interventions to curb it locally.
A key part of that work involves collecting data and sharing it with as many people who will listen, including municipal leaders, ambulance companies and municipal emergency management directors.
Neal A. Lustig, director for the Pomperaug District Department of Health, which serves Southbury, Woodbury and Oxford, said health departments have long had access to annual autopsy data, and for more than a year they have been able to see real-time reports of patient intake information for residents of the towns they serve at area hospitals.
But, he said, the Drug Enforcement Agency-created ODMAP program shows more detailed and up-to-date information about when and where overdoses happen.
Maura Esposito, the director of the Chesprocott Health District, which serves Cheshire, Wolcott and Prospect, said she has started regularly presenting the data to the mayors and managers of the three towns in the district. It has showed spikes in overdoses in the summer, and that Wolcott has the highest number of the towns.
“You can see the trends, where are they going, what are we doing,” she said. “It’s about educating the public on where we are, and why.”
Kathryn Glendon, public health specialist with Chesprocott, said there weren’t any reported uses of naloxone, a drug to treat opioid overdoses, in Prospect from July through last week.
According to information on Chesprocott’s website, there was one fatal opioid overdose in Prospect in 2018.
Glendon said the ODMAP program is a way for health officials to track suspected overdoses more frequently and work with local officials to develop ways to prevent opioid abuse.
While the data may not capture the full scope of the overdose crisis in Connecticut, Esposito said, it will help generate support for grants and fund more prevention programs in the towns in her district.
“We’ve only really been playing with this for the last six months,” she said. “This is going to be opening up a lot of discussion.”
Jessica Stelmaszek, director of health for the Naugatuck Valley Health District, which serves six Valley towns, including Beacon Falls and Naugatuck, said the ODMAP program provides a real-time look at suspected overdoses.
“It’s a good informational tool that puts things into perspective that we didn’t have before,” she said.
From July to Dec. 12, there were 16 suspected overdoses in Naugatuck, two of which were fatal, according to information provided by the health district. In Beacon Falls, there were three suspected overdoses during that same time, none of which were fatal.
Stelmaszek said the Naugatuck Valley Health District is comparing the data with information on fatal overdoses provided by the Connecticut Office of the Chief Medical Examiner as well as information of patient intake at hospitals to see if the figures align. She said the health district is still working to fully understand the new data, and the hope is the health district can use it to make recommendations on how to combat the opioid crisis.
As of earlier this month, Stelmaszek said the health district hadn’t started sharing reports with the district’s towns.
“I want to make sure we have sound data,” she said.
Last month, Lustig presented some of the information he compiled at a meeting of emergency management personnel in Southbury.
Between June and November, emergency responders reported six overdoses in Southbury. Two were fatal. In all three Pomperaug district towns, 17 overdoses were reported, six of them were fatal.
The data shows the leaders of suburban and rural towns that people are suffering and dying from their addictions even outside of Connecticut’s bigger cities, a fact that might not be obvious to people who aren’t first responders or work in hospitals, Lustig said.
“We hope that they are continually apprised that this is a serious matter and it’s not just happening in the inner city,” he said. “It can happen their community.”