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State responds to a growing heroin crisis

By Karen Florin

Publication: The Day

Published March 14. 2014 4:00AM   Updated March 15. 2014 12:25AM

A 24-year-old Waterford man died of a suspected heroin overdose at a Groton hotel last week, becoming the latest victim of a growing public health crisis that has spawned a "reinforced response" from government agencies and a proposed law to make the life-saving antidote, naloxone, more widely available.

Emergency responders and police who were called to a local hotel Friday found a man who had died of an obvious accidental overdose of heroin, according to Groton Town Police Detective Lt. John W. Varone.

A spokesman for the state Office of the Chief Medical Examiner said the cause of death for 24-year-old Corey Hunt of Waterford is "pending further study," which is usually an indication that the office is awaiting the results of toxicology tests. Members of Hunt's family declined to comment Thursday.

"The scene was indicative of a 'hot shot,' where it was most likely the potency or the cut of the drug that killed him," Varone said.

A 'hot shot' is a lethal injection of heroin or other opiate. Varone said the Poquonnock Bridge Fire Department and Groton Ambulance had responded to other overdose cases in recent months where they were able to revive the patients.

The state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services issued a warning Thursday that heroin may be laced with ingredients such as fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opiate pain medication. Fentanyl amplifies the effects of heroin, which is a naturally occurring opioid, increasing the likelihood of a death from overdose.

Testifying in Hartford Wednesday in favor of a proposal that would provide immunity to people who administer naloxone, or Narcan, to somebody who is overdosing, DMHAS Commissioner Patricia Rehmer said that on average, one Connecticut person per day has been dying of a drug overdose and that it is the leading cause of death for males ages 18 to 25.

A dose of Narcan, administered through injection or nasal spray, usually takes effect within 1 to 2 minutes, but Rehmer said members of the public remain fearful of becoming involved in an overdose situation, calling 911 only about half the time for fear they may be arrested or sued by family members if they administer treatment that is not effective.

Rehmer said she sent a letter to substance abuse providers recently instructing them to consider it standard practice to provide Narcan education and prescriptions to individuals in proximity to those with opioid addiction, both those currently using or in recovery.

The DMHAS said it would be scheduling forums throughout the state to educate the public on the dangers of prescription drug abuse and heroin use. The department hopes to gather "anecdotal information" that will help inform their future strategies for responding to opiate addiction.

"These fatalities are preventable. Treatment options for opioid addiction are available and we must link those using heroin to effective services," Rehmer said. "We must also ensure widespread dissemination of Narcan, the life-saving drug that reverses drug overdoses. Addiction is a long-term disease where relapses can occur but recovery is possible."

The Rev. Carolyn Patierno of the All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church in New London said that close to 300 people attended a memorial service for Hunt on Wednesday. She said Hunt was a young man full of promise who was seduced by a horrible epidemic that is wreaking havoc. The most important thing that was said at the service was that "people are more than their addictions," Patierno said.

"The family very much wanted the cause of this young man's death to be dealt with out of their concern for others," she said.

DMHAS said there are a range of treatment options available and that information can be found on the DMHAS website at www.ct.gov/dmhas/medassistedtx or at www.connecticut.networkofcare.org.

k.florin@theday.com

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