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More Substance Abuse, More Overdoses in the State . . . And Fewer People Seeking Help

September 02, 2020

While Connecticut’s opioid overdose statistics seemed somewhat hopeful in 2018, widespread introduction of fentanyl reversed the trend last year and the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t finished overloading people with worries feeding addictions this year.

Dr. J. Craig Allen, medical director of Rushford, part of the Hartford HealthCare Behavioral Health Network, marked International Overdose Awareness Day Aug. 31 by delivering an overview of addiction, particularly opioid use disorder (OUD), in the area.

“We are on track to surpass last year in the number of opioid deaths,” he said. In mid-July, there were 666 opioid deaths in Connecticut, “with more than 300 cases yet to be identified as to cause of death.”

The increase is about 22 percent over last year, reflecting an alarmingly steady increase in the number of opioid-related deaths. Last year, he attributed increases to the introduction of the substance fentanyl to drug supplies across the state.

“Some people don’t even know (the drugs) have fentanyl in it,” he said. “It overwhelms their system and overwhelms the part of the brain that tells you to breathe.”

COVID-19, however, seems to be boosting numbers even more sharply, although Dr. Allen said the more alarming concern is that fewer people are seeking help for OUD or overdose. Many, he asserted, are likely afraid to go into healthcare facilities where they might catch the virus.

In response, Rushford teams are putting more resources into the community, including added street clinicians and recovery coaches in HHC’s seven hospital emergency departments.

“We are working to engage and expand understanding across the system to help patients on their journey to sobriety,” Dr. Allen said.

In the meantime, anyone who notices increased substance or alcohol use by a loved one – signs include decreased function levels, trouble sleeping or taking care of physical needs, and being intoxicated more than usual – can reach out to Rushford, Alcoholics Anonymous or other resources for help. Tips and role-playing strategies are also available on the service Allies in Recovery, which is available free during COVID-19.

“If they want to be involved, family members should also to join the person’s appointment with their clinician,” Dr. Allen said.

At HHC, he said, clinicians are also working with community groups from local churches to harm-reduction organizations in addressing the rise in opioid deaths.

“The numbers are incredibly concerning,” Dr. Allen said.