The number of deaths due to drug overdoses increased 18 percent statewide in 2019 with a 29 percent increase in fetanyl-related deaths, according to the latest report from the state medical examiner.
The annual report states that of the accidental intoxication deaths, 94 percent involved an opioid.
Locally, overdose deaths remained steady in Meriden, while Wallingford and Cheshire saw declines, which officials attributed to increased use of overdose reversal drugs, along with increased awareness. In Southington, overdose deaths rose from three in 2018 to 10 in 2019.
In Meriden in 2018 there were 25 deaths within the city from drug intoxication, and that number was the same for 2019, according to the data. Meriden Sgt. Darrin McKay said that while 25 deaths is never acceptable, in light of what’s going on across the state and country with the opioid epidemic, any city not seeing an increase has to consider itself lucky. McKay said the department has been working toward decreasing fatalities. He believes a large portion of the deaths statewide have been from mixing of drugs.
“Fentanyl is very easy to use as a cutting agent for heroin,” McKay said. “It’s a big problem for our police department and departments across the country.”
McKay said the police department gets its supply of Narcan, an overdose reversal drug, from the Rushford center free of charge and all officers on the street are equipped with at least one dose. Fire crews and Hunters Ambulance also have Narcan on board at all times. McKay said a quick response is critical to someone suffering an overdose.
In 2018 there were five accidental intoxication deaths in Wallingford, compared to two 2019, according to the medical examiner’s data.
Wallingford Deputy Chief Joseph Czentnar said having police and fire crews equipped with Narcan is making a difference in town. Czentnar said there has also been a lot of public education and awareness around opioid addiction in recent years. Czentnar also said family members of drug users now are able to have access to doses of Narcan, which can also make a difference in preventing overdose deaths.
Coalition for a Better Wallingford founder Ken Welch said his group is focused on prevention awareness programs for families. Welch said he is going to fewer funerals for overdose deaths than he did seven years ago, but there is still a lot of work to do. Welch noted a recent incident where 2,400 bags of heroin were found in a car on Route 5.
“There’s a lot of factors you need to evaluate and address,” Welch said. “It’s such a moving target. We try not to water down the message and to be effective.”
There was an increase in deaths in Southington from three in 2018 to 10 in 2019, while Cheshire saw one death in 2018 and none reported in 2019.
McKay said the narcotics and crime suppression units work tirelessly to keep drugs out of the city, but it is impossible to eliminate all drugs. The cases take time to investigate and identify the dealers.
“To anyone using, our message would be to understand that you might not be using what you think you’re buying,” McKay said. “...It’s a dangerous habit from the fact that the people selling the illicit drug are cutting it with different agents, with no concern about the person that’s buying it.”
He encouraged residents struggling with addiction to contact the Rushford center, the local mental health authority for Meriden and Wallingford designated by the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services. Rushford can be reached 203-630-5280 or 1-800-567-0902.