Gov. Malloy introduces statewide strategy at Yale to combat opioid crisis

This story was originally published in the New Haven Register on Thursday, Oct. 6 and was written by Esteban L. Hernandez 

NEW HAVEN >> Gov. Dannel Malloy on Thursday unveiled a statewide strategy to address the opioid epidemic that he hopes will reduce the number of fatal overdoses that continue to ravage Connecticut by providing more access to addiction treatment.

Malloy made the announcement inside the Yale School of Medicine, which was one of several partners that helped develop the sweeping plan called the Connecticut Opioid Response Initiative. The plan was developed under the direction of Malloy, who led a state that’s seen the number of fatal drug overdoses increase annually since 2012.

Chief Medical Examiner Dr. James Gill has said he projects 888 people will die of drug overdoses this year, which would be a sharp increase from the 729 fatal drug overdoses in 2015.

The state’s crisis mirrors a nationwide uptick in the number of fatal overdose involving opioids such as heroin and legal painkillers. Malloy said it’s a crisis without a singular root cause and without singular, simple solution.

“Every city, every town, has been touched in Connecticut over the last few years,” Malloy said. “Today we are proud to announce a strategic plan for the state of Connecticut that builds on all of the work that we have accomplished together in the past and charts a clear, interactive and action-based path forward.”

The plan was developed by the Connecticut Opioid Response, or CORE, team led by Dr. David Fiellin of Yale’s School of Medicine, and Yale affiliated doctors Drs. Robert Heimer, William Becker and Gail D’Onofrio, who is medical director Yale New Haven Hospital emergency department. Health insurance carriers were also involved in development of the plan.

Fiellin said the team used local data and scientific evidence of “proven intervention” options to create the plan’s focus. The plan seeks to change the way people think, talk and treat addiction, Fiellin said, and it’s immediate goal is to reduce the number of fatal overdoses.

Malloy called the plan a “road map,” that emphasis more access to addiction treatment, specifically high-quality medication assisted treatment, or MAT, such as methadone or buprenorphine. It will also identify individuals at the highest risk for drug overdoses while keeping an eye on opioid prescription guidelines to ensure they’re followed.

“These medications, when provided with counseling and as long-term treatment, have been proven to be the most effective treatment for opioid use disorder,” Fiellin said.

Improving access to addiction and substance use disorder treatment is an issue across the country. The Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality’s National Survey on Drug Use Center estimated in 2013 that just 20 percent of people with illicit drug use disorders were receiving treatment.

The new plan would enhance communication between state agencies, local health authorities, hospitals and insurance providers to improve response. It will also ensure taxpayer money is being used effectively, Malloy said.

“Connecticut spends, however, over $65 million a year on treatment for opioid dependency,” Malloy said. “This plan will help ensure that those dollars are spent on the best and most effective ways possible.”

The state will build on efforts to improve access to naloxone, the overdose reversal drug, which is already available for use by first responders. It also increases access to same-day treatment for individuals seeking addiction treatment.

Malloy was joined by several state commissioners, including Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services Commissioner Miriam Delphin-Rittmon, who’s postdoctoral fellowship was done at Yale’s Medical School, where’s she’s listed as a professor of psychiatry.

“We know that with treatment and recovery support, people can change their lives,” Delphin-Rittmon said.

Funding the plan will be provided by a combination of state and federal funds. It will likely draw scrutiny from a state legislature that’s been pushed to find more and more ways to save the state money. Malloy said that not every aspect of the plan will be funded immediately; Malloy also said that funding for the plan will be planned as he works on the biennial budget.

Federal money includes $1 million in annual funding awarded to the state over a three-year period to fund MAT in high-risk areas in the state. Several local clinics in the state received a combined $2.5 million from Affordable Care Act funding in March through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Reach Esteban L. Hernandez at 203-680-9901.

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