NORTHWEST CORNER — According to Litchfield County Opiate Task Force Network Coordinator Lauren Pristo, between April 28 and May 2 there were 14 opioid overdoses in Litchfield County.
The overdoses during the five days took place mostly outside of Torrington.
The number of overdoses is classified by the task force as a “Spike Alert”, which means that the number of overdoses is at a substantially high rate.
Due to the “Spike Alert” in the five days, the task force convened an emergency meeting on Zoom on Monday, May 3.
The meeting included representatives of the task force along with members of other organizations, representatives of town governments, and state representatives.
The meeting was called to discuss the high rate of opioid overdoses in Litchfield County and to discuss potential ways to reduce overdoses.
“There are three levels that we have in that ‘spike alert,’ and unfortunately, in the last five days we reached the highest threshold,” Maria Coutant Skinner, Executive Director for the McCall Center for Behavioral Health, said at the beginning of the meeting. “Torrington is the largest city in Litchfield County and this is where many resources reside. But most of the overdoses happened outside of Torrington.”
Robert Lawlor, who is a drug intelligence officer from New Haven’s Office of National Drug Control Policy, described to meeting participants the current situation throughout the state when it comes to opioids.
“It’s the wild, wild west when it comes to drugs,” Lawlor said. “The reason why is because we moved from an era of plant-based drugs, including heroin and cocaine, to an era of chemical and synthetic based drugs, including fentanyl and fentanyl analogs. But there are also chemical-based stimulants out there and you have an ease of smuggling with these products.”
Lawlor said that the illegal drug market is more dangerous than ever before thanks to synthetic and chemical-based drugs.
“The market is so volatile that every little bit of drug is dangerous, and you don’t know what you are buying,” he said. “I don’t think even the dealer you are buying from in your local community knows what they are getting. By the time the dealer gets it, the drugs are so diluted with other drugs that they don’t even know what they are purchasing from their supplier.”
The impact of the pandemic on the opioid crisis
Skinner said that, while resources are out there to help with drug addiction, that “a recovery journey is not a straight line.”
“We talk a lot about harm reduction and what that means, and when you boil it down to the nitty-gritty, we are doing everything we can to keep people alive,” Skinner said. “Today I heard a story about a woman who has spent 10 years in recovery. She was doing well, but then the pandemic hit and it brought an intense stressor for her. She went back to her old coping mechanisms, which was to use opioids.”
The task force has five harm reduction “rovers” which is a mobile kit that carries tools including nasal and injectable Naloxone, wound care supplies, and Covid safety materials.
“She came to a harm reduction rover after the spike because she doesn’t want to die,” Skinner said. “This is important because the potency of what is on the streets right now is so deadly. But sometimes it feels like we are no match for what is on the streets.”
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D) said that he is currently working to get funding from the federal government for the state to get more resources for the state to fight substance abuse, along with funding for resources to treat mental illness.
“We need resources for the fundamental issues that prompt substance abuse,” Sen. Blumenthal said. “The effects of this pandemic will be cataclysmic when it comes to mental health. I see a deepening crisis in so many facets of our lives for so many of our population. I worry tremendously about the need for health treatment in this country, Connecticut included. The trend line is very deeply disturbing and almost shocking because what we are seeing is that the number of overdoses is the tip of the iceberg of the problems as we go along.”
Fulfilling the needs of the communities
Thomas Narducci, Administrative Director of Public Health at Charlotte Hungerford Hospital, said that, as part of the response to the opioid overdose crises, the hospital has focused on mental health treatment and counseling.
This includes hiring medical providers that are trained in obtaining help for patients with substance abuse issues.
“We are also trying to create a safety net through partnerships with multiple agencies,” Narducci said. “We don’t know what folks will access [when it comes to resources], but we want to be there when the need arises for them.”
Sgt. Brandon Kelly of the Torrington Police Department said that the department has partnered up with case managers to help with cases involving opioid abuse and mental health issues.
“When we have calls going out, whether it would be mental health or addiction, we always ask the question on whether or not we can do a little more,” Sgt. Kelly said. “When we have a case manager with us, we do a follow-up within a 24 to 48-hour window. We do an additional follow-up to anyone who has overdosed or has some kind of substance abuse. The goal of this is to have someone act as a conduit for services. The goal of this is to have someone to act as a conduit for services because many people in the field may not know about or have access to services.”
Litchfield County Opiate Task Force: https://www.mccallcenterct.org/litchfield-county-opiate-task-force
Mental health resources: 24-hour crisis hotline: 1-888-444-3339 or text “LISTEN” 741-741
Greenwoods Counseling Referrals: Mental health and substance use assessments, treatment, and referrals. Financial assistance available 860-567-4437
Addiction: Community Outreach and Recovery Navigator Sarah Toomey 860-309-3845. Free and confidential support, resources, NARCAN, harm reduction for the entire family.
Western CT Mental Health: Higher level of psychiatric and substance abuse care 860-496-3700.