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    Sunday, July 21, 2024

    A hopeful reversal on overdose deaths

    A life saved from needless, premature death is always good news. Multiple lives saved through the dedication and training of many people working together is inspirational.

    First reports from the state Department of Public Health indicate that the number of drug overdose fatalities in New London County has markedly decreased for two consecutive years now. The numbers went from 125 in 2022 to 71 in 2023, year two of reversing the sharply upward trend of the last decade.

    That means 50-plus more people got a second chance at life in 2023 than in the year before.

    The numbers for the county and for the state won’t be final until more data comes from the state Office of the Chief Medical Examiner — and readers should pause to let that sink in, lest numbers seem like the whole story. Each overdose counted by the ME reflects the cause of death for someone’s loved one. The total is expected to rise in the final report.

    There is a long way to rewind from the more than 1,400 Connecticut overdose deaths of the last few years down to 357, the number in 2012. Even 357, or 35, or 3 would still be a tragic score.

    It is inspiring, though, to note that people involved in the effort to lower the death rate give credit to two factors in particular: the widespread availability and awareness of naloxone (Narcan) and a systematic, accessible program for connecting persons with opioid-abuse disorder to counselors, coaches and services when they are ready for them.

    Both in the news and editorially, The Day has followed the efforts of New London CARES (Coordinated Access, Resources, Engagement and Support) and the Recovery Coach program in Norwich since they began several years ago. From the start of each group, the commitment to persevere with all the agencies and groups that could make a difference was obvious.

    We applaud the ongoing work of the organizers and peer coaches still at work on this stubborn and deadly problem. That includes public health teams and fire and police departments that have invested in the time, training and best practices that first, save people who are overdosing, and second, channel them to care and resources for recovery.

    Despite successful strategies that have now proven to save lives, the teams’ work has really just begun. Fentanyl, which was rare on the streets until several years ago, is now implicated in 85 percent of accidental fatal overdoses. Locally, both people experiencing opioid abuse disorder and those who administer the outreach programs say they fail to see a decrease in use. That suggests the dangerous behavior is not yet being reduced but rather mitigated by naloxone. The crisis continues. Realistically, there is no guarantee the numbers won’t reverse again.

    Law enforcement at all levels faces a plethora of challenges ahead in blocking import and manufacture of fentanyl. U.S. Border Patrol, Coast Guard, Customs and other federal policing agencies are critical if there is to be any cap on the fentanyl flow.

    A death rate that has gone down a bit but remains high is not cause for celebration. But it is a reason for hope, and for gratitude to the agencies and volunteers that tackle the problem daily while treating people suffering from opioid abuse as human beings, not statistics. We add a word of encouragement to the 50-plus people who got a second chance in the past year, that they will be open to the counsel and coaching of those peers who know that rescue is possible.

    The Day editorial board meets with political, business and community leaders to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Timothy Dwyer, Executive Editor Izaskun E. Larraneta, Owen Poole, copy editor, and Lisa McGinley, retired deputy managing editor. The board operates independently from The Day newsroom.

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