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Blumenthal gathers providers to announce additional $6 million in opioid funding

When five people died of drug overdoses within a 24-hour period in Litchfield County this past June, emergency medical staff got the word out so that volunteers could distribute life-saving naloxone at key locations, including a local soup kitchen.

The so-called "spike alert" system, described by Commissioner Miriam Delphin-Rittmon of the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services during a news conference Thursday at the state Capitol in Hartford, is one of many state efforts to combat the opioid crisis.

The Connecticut medical examiner has projected the total number of fatal drug overdoses for 2019 at 1,088, a number that has increased about 205 percent since 2012, when 357 overdose deaths were reported.

Treatment providers say the numbers would be higher without innovative, but costly programs that include the widespread distribution of the overdose-reversal drug known as Narcan, recovery coaches working out of 18 hospital emergency rooms statewide, and in southeastern Connecticut, a program that includes doctors making "house calls" when necessary to connect with people who want to enroll in medication-assisted treatment.

In Fairfield County, the Liberation Program treatment center uses a federally funded "peace, love and liberation" van to bring coffee, counselors and medication to clients in the community.

"At the end of the day, all of us are trying to keep people alive and offer them hope," said John Hamilton, chief executive officer of the Liberation Program.

Since 2016, Connecticut has been awarded more than $40 million for the opioid crisis, according to Delphin-Rittmon. U.S. Sen Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., gathered the DMHAS commissioner and treatment providers from throughout the state in Hartford to announce that Connecticut will be receiving an additional $6 million in federal funding for opioid treatment and prevention under a measure passed by Congress in the closing days of the 2019.

"Literally 130 people (nationally) will die today as a result of overdoses or other substance abuse related diseases," Blumenthal said. "We must recognize that substance abuse disorders are diseases. They are not a moral failure and need to be treated."

At the end of the year, Congress authorized increasing funding by $500 million for substance abuse programs — from $1 billion to $1.5 billion — but Blumenthal said it is only a fraction of what is needed. He said he has proposed spending $100 billion on substance abuse issues over the next decade through the Comprehensive Addiction Resources Emergency Act.

Mark Jenkins of the Greater Hartford Harm Reduction Coalition said the coalition has had more than 100 overdose reversals in the past year and is continuing its efforts to connect people with resources in a central location. The coalition provides free Narcan, with training, and distributes "overdose care packages" through police departments and emergency rooms.

"We also still face a huge battle with 'NIMBYism' and people not wanting to see the services we provide in their back yards," said Jenkins.

Two of the treatment providers Blumenthal called on to speak Thursday said they were in long-term recovery from opioid addiction, and that they shared their personal information in an effort to break the stigma.

Sarah Howroyd, director of mental health and addiction services at Elevate Counseling Services, said she is "living proof that recovery is possible."

"We're losing the equivalent of Americans lost in 9/11 every two to three weeks," Howroyd said. "People are dying in droves and it's going to take innovative, evidence-based programs to get us there.

For information on treatment programs in Connecticut, go to https://liveloud.org/connecticuts-crisis/ or call 1 (800) 563-4086.

k.florin@theday.com

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