As if anyone needed more data to be convinced that Connecticut – and our country in general – finds itself in the grip of a deadly opioid epidemic, some new, jarring numbers were released recently.
According to statistics put out by the state Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, Connecticut saw a 10-percent increase in fatal overdoses in 2017, driven by a nearly 40-percent rise in those attributed to fentanyl, a synthetic drug much stronger than heroin.
Speaking at a legislative appropriations hearing, Chief Medical Examiner James Gill said that accidental intoxication deaths rose from 917 in 2016 to 1,040 last year, with a few cases still pending. Meanwhile, deaths involving fentanyl rose sharply, from 483 in 2016 to 675 last year, accounting for 54 percent of all accidental overdose fatalities.
Gill said, “Over the past five years, the number of accidental drug intoxication deaths in Connecticut has increased almost 300 percent, which has contributed to a 70 percent increase in our autopsies.”
These are staggering stats, but they’re not at all unusual in America.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that since 1999 deaths from prescription opioids – drugs like oxycodone, hydrocodone and methadone – have quadrupled. And each day, 44 people in the U.S. die from overdose of prescription drugs, with painkillers topping the list.
Meanwhile, the use of heroin – another opioid – is on the rise, as are heroin-related overdose deaths.
There's a clear and troubling connection between painkillers and heroin. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration points out that “as people use opioids repeatedly, their tolerance increases and they may not be able to maintain the source for the drugs. This can cause them to turn to the black market for these drugs and even switch from prescription drugs to cheaper and more risky substitutes like heroin.”
Again, there were more than 1,000 fatal overdoses in our state in 2017; a 10 percent jump from the previous year.
It can’t be stated enough: This is a public health emergency.