NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) – Numerous states, including Connecticut, are reporting a rise in heroin use as many addicts shift from more costly and harder-to-get prescription opiates to this cheaper alternative. A look at what’s happening in Connecticut:
The Connecticut medical examiner’s office says accidental deaths from heroin rose sharply between 2012 and 2013. Police in and around Hartford have started seeing a deadly form of heroin laced with the prescription painkiller fentanyl. And according to the Connecticut Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, heroin addiction currently ranks second behind alcohol as the reason people seek treatment. “This dramatic increase of heroin use and abuse in Connecticut is unlike anything we’ve ever seen,” says U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn.
Connecticut’s heroin-related overdose deaths jumped 48 percent in two years. Connecticut reported 174 deaths in 2012 and 257 deaths in 2013, according to the medical examiner’s office. The figures include heroin alone and heroin with other drugs. The state last year saw the highest number of people in eight years – 10,183 – admitted for treatment for heroin at licensed programs, the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services said. The figure was up from 8,954 admitted in 2012.
Murphy says the heroin problem is complex and the response requires better coordination among governments, health care providers and law enforcement. “We’re not doing enough to change the way we address this crisis,” he said.
In 2012, Connecticut passed a law that allows health care professionals to prescribe medication capable of reversing an opioid overdose to anyone for the purpose of helping a person who’s overdosed. The law protects the prescribers from being sued or prosecuted. Previously, liability protection applied to health care providers who prescribed the antidote only to the drug user. Legislation is pending this year that would expand the legal protection also to the person administering the antidote.
Murphy and U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., have outlined measures they will support on the federal and state levels to reduce heroin addiction and deaths, including increased funding for treatment and prevention. They also are calling upon their home state and others to pass Good Samaritan laws that provide legal immunity to anyone who administers treatment for a drug overdose. “We can’t wait any longer,” Murphy said.