NORTHWEST CORNER — Lt. Governor Susan Bysiewicz (D) led an in-person and virtual roundtable discussion about the continuing Opioid epidemic on Wednesday, Aug. 26.
Some participants took part in the discussion via the Zoom app, while others were present at the First Congregational Church in Kent.
At the beginning of the meeting, Lt. Governor Bysiewicz said that, from the beginning of January to May, there have been 531 opioid deaths in the state.
“That compares with 435 deaths that we had a year ago right in the same time frame,” Lt. Governor Bysiewicz said. “That’s a 22 percent increase in deaths from drug overdoses. We are unfortunately on track to exceed the 1,200 deaths that we have had in 2019.”
She and many of the other speakers at the round table said that the increase has to do with the continuing Covid-19 pandemic.
“As is the case, experts believe that it is the isolation and increased stress that people are doing this,” she said. “The statistics are very scary.”
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D) said that increased federal funding is needed to combat the opioid crisis.
“I think the 22 percent figure understates what’s happening on the ground,” Sen. Blumenthal said. “I was with a group yesterday of health care providers and substance abuse experts who attested very dramatically to the effects of isolation, loneliness, stress, anxiety, in hiking those rates. Also, all of the coping mechanisms have been broken. Whether it is jobs, workplace, home life, family connections, the sense of isolation, and the pounding of fear and aggravation resulting from the pandemic and the threat of becoming sick. All of it increases the susceptibility of people who are in recovery, or perhaps prone to this disease. I think if nothing else, we should recognize it as a disease, we should recognize it as a disease. Not a moral failing.”
Sen. Blumenthal discussed The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Donald Trump in late March, provided $425 million for substance abuse and mental health programs in the country.
“$20 million came to the state for seven institutions dealing with substance and mental health programs,” he said. “But it’s a fraction of what’s needed.”
While the House of Representatives passed the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act (HEROES) economic relief bill in late May, the Senate has not.
“Three billion at a minimum is necessary for mental health, substance abuse, emergency grants to states, services for homelessness, child traumatic stress grants, and suicide prevention,” Sen. Blumenthal said. “This country has to recognize that the spread of the Coronavirus is only aggravated if we fail to deal with the growing opioid epidemic. The pandemic has aggravated the epidemic. An economic stimulus is essential to addressing the multi-faceted causes of this spike in substance abuse and opioid overdose deaths.”
The next speaker was U.S. Rep. Jahana Hayes (D-5) who said she was not surprised that the opioid overdose death rate has increased from last year.
“It’s no surprise because of the isolation, economic stress, lack of therapeutic treatments, and medications,” Rep. Hayes said. “These are all things that lay the foundation and set the stage to a lifetime of struggles. When we passed the HEROES Act (in the House of Representatives), there was an acute emphasis on not just recovery but also prevention. It is about making sure that we are investing funds so that people can have all the necessary resources available to them. We must be investing resources in all of these places who believe that prevention, recovery, and getting people back on the right track don’t define who they are. Those are the types of things we are pushing for. Every person in our caucus was saying that this is a reciprocal impact due to COVID. It was more than a health care pandemic because every aspect of people’s lives has been affected.”
According to the Department of Public Health, so far this year there have been 666 drug overdose deaths in the state, with 11 in Litchfield County.
Town by town drug overdose deaths: Torrington four deaths, and one death each in Winsted, New Hartford, and Colebrook.