Connecticut U.S. Sens. Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal, held a press conference March 17 in Hartford to discuss the “growing heroin epidemic” in the state.
Over the last decade heroin use has nearly doubled nationwide, and Connecticut has seen a spike in the number of heroin-related deaths, the senators said in a statement.
“It’s an issue that we have, unfortunately, become increasingly more aware of, particularly the transition from prescription drugs into heroin use,” Justin Carbonella said. Carbonella serves as co-chair on the Middletown Substance Abuse Prevention Council as well as the Middletown Youth Services Coordinator.
Carbonella said that the council is working on promoting awareness and prevention of prescription drug abuse, which is known to be a gateway to heroin use.
In Middletown, efforts are being made to organize a prescription drug buyback, Carbonella said.
Deputy Chief John Klett of the Berlin Police Department said Berlin has dealt with some heroin cases on occasion, but that he does not personally know of any cases where heroin was found mixed with the prescription medication fentanyl, which may be responsible for the increased fatalities.
“Fentanyl is a very powerful medication,” Victoria Richards, associate professor of medical sciences at the Frank H. Netter MD School of Medicine at Quinnipiac University said.
Fentanyl, like heroin, is an opiate-derivative, Richards explained. Fentanyl is sometimes mixed with heroin to produce a more potent drug, but fentanyl carries with it a much greater risk of respiratory depression, which can be fatal. The mixing of the drugs may cause users to overdose by accident. The deaths are not being caused by a drug reaction, but by an overdose of two opium derivatives that both cause respiratory depression by the same chemical mechanism, Richards said.
Fentanyl is very useful in surgical settings and for treating cancer pain, Richards said, but it is important that the public be educated on the dangers of recreational use of opiates.
Murphy and Blumenthal called for legislation that would allow police officers to carry and deliver an antidote drug that Richards said is very effective in treating respiratory depression caused by both heroin and fentanyl. This antidote works by blocking the chemical receptors for both opiates, quickly lifting patients out of respiratory depression and saving lives if administered in time.
Police officers are often the first on the scene when an overdose is reported.
In North Haven, there is a prescription drug take-back event twice a year, which allows people to dispose of prescription medications quickly, safely, and with no questions asked. The next disposal drive will be April 26.
North Haven has also seen some recent success in tracking down narcotics dealers. “The reason for that is the investment we have made in K-9 units,” North Haven First Selectman Michael Freda explained.
The North Haven Police Department reported on Facebook Feb. 1 that it had apprehended an alleged North Haven heroin supplier with the assistance of the K-9, Zeus.
“The men and women of the North Haven Police Department have done an outstanding job in breaking up potential drug distribution networks,” Freda said.
“There is a problem in North Haven as there is in other communities regarding drug abuse,” Freda said.
Freda said it is important not to minimize the problem, because saving even one life through prevention or intervention is invaluable.
In addition to prevention through prescription drug disposal and law enforcement, there are addiction services available in every community.
Assistant Community Services Director in Berlin, Doug Truitt, said that he is able to connect residents to a wide variety of addiction treatment services, including private organizations that take medical insurance for treatment.