Need for teen program shows extent of opioid crisis

In 2017, more than 1,000 Connecticut residents died of accidental drug overdoses. The vast majority of these deaths were linked to heroin and other opioid-based drugs. In the past six years, Connecticut has been in the unenviable position near the top of state-by-state rankings of the rates of opioid-related deaths. In 2016, Connecticut’s opioid-related death rate of 24.5 of every 1,000 persons stood well above the national average of 13.3 deaths per 1,000 persons.

Adding to the tragedy is the fact that teenagers are increasingly experimenting with and suffering from addiction to opioids. A New London teen’s April death was ruled to be caused by toxicity of fentanyl, according to the chief state medical examiner. A 2015 round of surveys by the Southeastern Regional Action Council found illicit use of prescription drugs, including opioids, had nearly tripled among the region’s high school students. In Norwich, the survey showed more students reported illicitly using prescription drugs in the past 30 days than using alcohol or marijuana.

Among these sad facts and statistics related to the continuing crisis, however, there is some hope. One bright note was the announcement last week that United Community and Family Services is among four agencies in the state that will be offering advanced and comprehensive opioid disorder treatment for adolescents up to age 21. The program, which combines intensive therapy along with medication-assisted treatment, aims to prevent youth from falling deeper into addiction’s throes.

Called the ASSERT treatment model, the federally funded program can treat 94 youth and their families, including 24 in southeastern Connecticut, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said in announcing the program. The program stands out not only because it aims at preventing a deeper addiction crisis, but because it combines both individual and group therapies, includes the youth’s support system of family and friends, and takes therapy and treatment on the road to the youths’ homes. The program also eliminates financial barriers to both therapy and medication-assisted treatments.

“This crisis is hitting young people just as it is adults, and it is critical that we provide treatment as soon as it is discovered,” Malloy said in announcing the program.

This program is yet another sign the region and state are steadily expanding the fronts on which the opioid crisis is being fought. The opioid-antidote naloxone, is now widely available. Policy changes are addressing the over-prescription of opioid-based painkillers. Arrested drug users are now more likely to be transferred to treatment than jail. As noted in a recent editorial, this region is leading an effort to make so-called sober houses safer for their residents in recovery. Another recent state bill could expand the availability of opioid addiction treatment in the state’s prisons.

With the body count of opioid-related deaths continuing to mount, however, it’s not yet time to accept a collective pat on the back. Resources remain insufficient, given the scope of the national crisis.

On the federal level, a recent move by U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy to give the Department of Labor more teeth in enforcing the law requiring health insurance coverage parity for mental health, including addiction, services, failed to muster any Republican support. This was despite a Trump-appointed panel’s recommendation that better enforcement tools are needed to ensure compliance to the law among insurance companies.

The opioid crisis is blind to geography, socio-economic standing and political affiliation. Individuals and families in both red and blue states continue to suffer, as do those from all rungs of the economic ladder and among a broad range of livelihoods. The fight against this scourge must continue on all levels, and across political lines, if it is to be successful.

 

The editorial board is composed of the publisher and four journalists of varied editing and reporting backgrounds. The board's discussions and information gained from its meetings with political, civic, and business leaders drive the institutional voice of The Day, as expressed in its editorials. The editorial department operates separately from the newsroom.

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