This story originally appeared in the New Haven Register
ANSONIA >> U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy says if $4 billion in emergency funding was found to fight 10 reported cases of Ebola in 2014, there has to be money to fight the “crippling” opioid epidemic that is spiraling out of control.
Murphy, D-Conn., paid a visit Friday to BHcare, the region’s local mental health authority, hosting a roundtable discussion with local law enforcement, doctors and community leaders.
“Less than six people in the U.S. contracted the Ebola virus. … It was money well spent, but more than 700 people died from the opioid epidemic last year and we haven’t spent one dime on this crisis,” Murphy said.
Murphy said he’s grateful to President Obama for signing the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act into law last Friday, which authorizes $181 million to help fight the heroin and prescription drug crisis. The funding is geared to create programs for prevention, treatment and recovery, and Murphy vowed to push to get some $600,000 of that funding here.
“We’re going to continue to push to fight this catastrophe,” said Murphy, adding that Republicans in Congress recently refused to approve emergency funds to combat the problem.
U.S. State’s Attorney Rob Spector said prescription drug use is running rampant among those ages 17-25, with many raiding their parents’ medicine cabinets. Spector said educating kids early on and “flooding them with information” is crucial. A scared-straight type of movie, titled “Chasing the Dragon,” is being shown in high schools to help, he said.
Over-prescribing highly addictive drugs also must stop, as Spector said he was asked by his child’s dentist if he wanted him to have Vicodin following a visit.
“What about Tylenol?” said Spector.
Dr. Gregory Boris, chairman of Griffin Hospital’s emergency department, presented a staggering statistic, saying “Three out of every 10 patients have a drug-related issue in our emergency department.”
Boris said preventative measures are being taken, including limiting prescriptions to 10 pills and creating care plans for patients to keep doctors on the same page. For example, if a patient comes to the emergency room during the day and gets a prescription, and then returns when the night shift doctor is on, and tries to score more pills, a red flag will be raised.
Ansonia Police Chief Kevin Hale said the street value of one Oxycotin pill is $80. He said a recent drug bust in Ansonia found someone in possession of 11,000 prescription pills, which ultimately could’ve found their way into the hands of children.
Derby Police Chief Jerry Narowski, who has dealt with 20 overdoses — two fatal — over the last 12 months, said “prevention” is key.
Miriam Delphin-Rittman, commissioner of the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, said the fight must be fought on all levels, local, state and federal.
“An all hands on deck approach is critical,” she said.
State Rep. Theresa Conroy, D-Seymour, said the state legislature is working hard to address the public health crisis, including increasing access to Narcan, which reverse the effects of opioid overdose, and drafting a bill to limit first-time adult opioid prescriptions for non-chronic pain to a seven day supply and limit all prescriptions for minors.
Carol Cruz of Milford beat her addiction more than 20 years ago, and works as a recovery coach specialist. She said the biggest hurdle to those seeking help is the “stigma” behind it. She spent two years in recovery and advocates for the same, and wants to see recovery coaches in high schools.
Prevention programs, tracking prescriptions, coaches, safe houses and other suggestions made during Friday’s roundtable require resources and funds, said Murphy, which he’ll fight for in the Valley and statewide.
“We need funding; we have to put pressure on physicians and the drug manufacturers,” Murphy said.