STAMFORD, Conn. — At a time when communities across Connecticut are grappling with a growing number of opioid overdoses, state and local officials gathered at the Stamford Government Center to recognize International Overdose Awareness Day.
“It's a necessary step in making sure that people are fully aware of the opioid crisis,” Gov. Dannel Malloy said at the event Wednesday.
Towns and cities across Connecticut — along with much of the East Coast and the nation — are grappling with opioid abuse. Between 2009 and 2014, more than 2,000 opiate-involved overdoses were reported in the state, according to officials.
Malloy said the current opioid epidemic is different from the heroin problems of the '60s, '70s and '80s. Illicit opioids — even those without fentanyl, a powerful additive — are many times more powerful than the heroin of those decades.
Illicit opioids of the past were also cut with nonactive ingredients and were expensive. That is no longer the case. "We have had cases of distribution for as little as $2.50," Malloy said, adding that lots of heroin is distributed in $10 doses.
“This is a very different problem than that what existed previously,” Malloy said.
The crisis affects communities across the state — and the country. In the state of Connecticut, overdoses have touched all but 17 cities and towns in the state, including wealthy suburbs such as Greenwich and Darien.
In Darien, First Selectwoman Jayme Stevenson said her town's emergency medical service has responded to more than 20 opioid and prescription medicine emergencies in the past 18 months. Two Darien residents have died from heroin overdoses and two others have been saved by Narcan in the past few months, she said.
Naloxone is a prescription medicine that blocks the effects of opioids and reverses an overdose. The drug has saved people who appear to have stopped breathing, but the cost of the drug has sparked controversy.
“It actually brings you back to life,” Malloy said. The drug automatically and quickly shuts down receptors in the brain affected by the opioids, he said.
Malloy said state police have saved more than 100 people from overdoses statewide, and Stamford Mayor David Martin said that first responders in the city have use of the life-saving drug. “It’s on all of our emergency equipment,” Martin said.
Opioid overdose deaths in Connecticut have skyrocketed from 357 in 2012 to 723 deaths in 2015, Malloy said. The fastest growing group of those addicted are those over 45 — an age group that is prescribed pain medication following hip replacements, knee replacements and major dental surgeries, Malloy said.
To combat the problem at home, several officials recommend that parents remove unneeded medications from their medicine cabinets. And, when it comes time for pain medication for surgeries, officials recommend that patients explore non-narcotic options.
Officials at the event encouraged greater understanding of addiction as a disease as many battling drug addiction face a social stigma. “We need to treat this ... as an illness and not a moral failing,” Martin said.
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