CHESHIRE — Abuse of highly addictive opioids, even when prescribed by a physician, is a problem Cheshire is hardly immune to, according to town Human Services Director Michelle Piccerillo.
She warns that “we may feel safe, but the town is certainly not protected from that at all.” The problem, she points out, is actually trending in the wrong direction. Although 2020 saw just six overdose incidents in Cheshire, there were 11 documented overdoses in 2022. That may not paint the total picture either, she says, “as people who are residents here might overdose somewhere else.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the United States saw 106,699 drug overdose deaths in 2021 alone, largely attributable to opioids. More than half of the deaths, over 71,000, were linked to fentanyl, a synthetic opioid 100 times more powerful than morphine. According to the state Department of Public Health website, “A number of these drugs are being sold through social media and online, not just on the street. Pills marked as Adderall, Xanax, and Oxycodone can be pressed by illegal drug mills to resemble these prescription drugs. Over 25% of these pills tested positive with a lethal dose of fentanyl.”
Back in December, the Cheshire Town Council authorized an appropriation of $62,397 for the purposes of developing additional resources to address the crisis, bringing the total amount of money to approximately $97,000. The funds come from a $10.7 billion class action settlement with drug retailers CVS and Walgreens. Connecticut received $127 million from that action, and has received $600 million total from opioid-related litigation, according to the state Attorney General’s office.
The money doesn’t come with a hard deadline for use, says Piccerillo, but it can be allocated toward a variety of approaches for addressing the problem of what is called “opioid use disorder,” or OUD, before it leads to fatal consequences.
Town Council Chair Tim Slocum said in December that, with regard to the funds, “We want to look at this in a holistic way because the numbers are getting significant, and we’ll be adding to it. We need to come up with a decent program so it’s safeguarded for appropriate expenditure.”
Piccerillo has been busy doing just that. With the participation of various town entities including the Cheshire Police Department, Public Library, schools and health department, a targeted action plan for the funds is coming into focus. Outreach to parents, faith-based organizations, nonprofits and other community entities is also part of the planning.
A community-needs assessment is underway and is scheduled to last three to four months. The main purpose of the survey, Piccerillo explains, is to identify the strengths, including resources already in place, along with the possible weaknesses that exist in Cheshire. Data collection aimed specifically at the youth population is scheduled for completion by June 1.
“These will run concurrently with other programming,” Piccerillo says, but will yield a “more focused report” that supports the goal of harm prevention.
Reducing harm takes various forms, as Piccerillo describes it, including non-arrest interventions that can divert people into appropriate treatment programs. Overcoming the stigma attached to drug addiction so that individuals are more willing to seek help is also a key directive.
Providing training for first responders, school staff, and others, on the use of the overdose reversal drug naloxone, often known by its brand name Narcan, is also necessary, Piccerillo explained. The state Department of Public Health has developed a free online application called NORA (Naloxone and Opioid Response App) to educate about opioids and how to administer a life-saving dose of naloxone if necessary. According to the site, the first step in a suspected overdose is to call 911.
Giving local health care providers more tools to identify OUD is another prong of the approach. “We want to make sure they’re screening for possible signs, and giving them more tools so they’re equipped to identify when somebody is at risk,” Piccerillo stated.
As new approaches come to light, those who have concerns about addiction in regard to themselves or another person, can get more information from resources including Health and Human Services, Youth Services, and the DPH.
People can contact the Cheshire Human Services Department at (203) 271-6690 to find out about the services available to them. Those include the following:
■Connecticut Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS) — DMHAS has established a 24/7 Access Line (1-800-563-4086.) to facilitate access to substance abuse treatment. Individuals from anywhere in Connecticut may call to help with linkage to residential detox. The Access Line is able to prioritize transportation services for detox. ■211/United Way of Connecticut — Call 2-1-1 for information and referrals 24/7 or go to the 2-1-1 website (www.211ct.org) for substance abuse related service listings.■Governor’s Prevention Partnership Public — A private partnership co-chaired by the Governor and business CEOs that works with schools, colleges, workplace settings, the police, communities, parents, and youth to prevent youth substance abuse and violence. Visit www.preventionworksct.org/ for more.■HealthyLivesCT.org — The HealthyLivesCT website focuses on overall wellness programs and services to assist Connecticut residents with helping to lower stress, reduce the risk of illness and ensure positive interactions. HealthyLivesCT targets emotional, physical, holistic, and financial wellness by providing screening tools and links to information and options to help individuals attain a sense of well-being.