Deadly addiction: Heroin deaths in Connecticut up 86 percent from 2012 to 2014
The number of heroin-related deaths in the state continued to rise again last year.
Year-end totals released by the state Office of the Chief Medical Examiner on Tuesday showed a 26 percent increase from 2013.
Of the 558 accidental drug overdose deaths reported in the state last year, heroin was involved in 58 percent, or 325, of those deaths. That is more than an 86 percent jump from the 174 heroin-related deaths reported in 2012.
Many of the deaths were people with multiple drugs in their system, according to the medical examiner, Dr. James R. Gill. Of the 325 accidental intoxication deaths that had heroin and/or other drugs detected, there were 115 with just heroin; 37 with both heroin and fentanyl; and 73 with cocaine and heroin. There also were deaths with heroin and alcohol or heroin and methadone, etc., he said.
The medical examiner has yet to release breakdowns by county, but local health care officials say the numbers don't surprise them.
Dr. Oliver Mayorga, chairman for emergency medicine at Lawrence + Memorial Hospital in New London, said just this week he received a report from a paramedic about an overdose victim found in a bathroom with hypodermic needles nearby. Mayorga said there was a jump in the number of heroin overdose patients late last year, but it's been relatively quiet with the onset of cold weather.
"Obviously, it's still happening," he said. "We don't see it all. Some never make it to the ER."
Mayorga said he will be interested in finding out whether increased awareness and training by emergency responders in the use of the antidote drug Narcan will have an impact in the coming year.
Hundreds of emergency medical technicians and emergency medical responders, including Norwich and New London firefighters, are training in use of the opioid reversal drug, which can halt the respiratory depression associated with an overdose of heroin. Before change to the scope of practice for an EMT was approved last year, only paramedics were authorized to administer Narcan.
Shawn Mawhiney, a spokesman for The William W. Backus Hospital, said the trend of overdoses has not escaped notice of emergency department personnel at both Backus and Backus' Plainfield Emergency Care Center.
Because of the continuing trend of overdose deaths, Backus registered nurse Karen Butterworth has spearheaded a task force to examine the problem. It includes a representative from Backus, the Plainfield Emergency Care Center, Norwich police and fire departments, Backus Psychiatric Services Department and the state Department of Children and Families. Their first meeting is March 6.
"They plan to talk about how to partner with other agencies to have an impact for what is becoming a major issue for eastern Connecticut and beyond," Mawhiney said. "The goal is earlier intervention so it never gets to the point of overdose or death."