Murphy, Blumenthal Submit Comments To Federal Opioid Commission

By:  Nicholas Rondinone
Hartford Courant

Officials admit there is no sure-fire solution to combating the deadly opioid crisis, but U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy sent a batch of comments and suggestions to a recently created presidential commission on the topic.

The comments, garnered from discussions last week at a summit in Bridgeport, focus on barriers, needed resources and prevention.

"As you know, the opioid epidemic is devastating communities across the nation and more must be done to combat this crisis," the senators wrote in a letter accompanying the suggestions. "We urge you to use these comments as you develop the interim and final reports for President Trump."

The summit, held at Housatonic Community College, brought together care providers, law enforcement, harm reductionists and others to brainstorm strategies to head-off the opioid epidemic. Before breaking into small groups, those in attendance heard of the grim reality this crisis has created in Connecticut from the state's chief medical examiner.

"Subjectively, I can tell you the accidental deaths are not decreasing. We see at least two or three deaths a day, sometimes it's five or six," Dr. James Gill, the chief medical examiner, said at the summit. Among the statistics shared, Gill said opioids were found in 93 percent of the 917 deadly overdoses.

Blumenthal and Murphy drew on some of these statistics in the letter they sent to President Donald Trump's Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis.

They wrote: "The powerful drug fentanyl was involved in the deaths of 483 people – a staggering 544 percent increase since just a couple of years ago. In 2016, more people in Connecticut died from drug overdoses than from homicides, suicides, and car accidents combined."

When asked what they would want to see implemented, those in attendance suggested, among other things, to increase treatment programs and beds — a frequent recommendation as the state continues to grapple with the epidemic.

Attendees also recommended that insurance coverage for treatment is mandated.

When focused on prevention, the attendees suggested that school-based programs start early and that work be done to combat the stigma associated with mental health and substance use disorders.

"While there is no one solution to solving the opioid epidemic, these are certainly a great start and we thank you again for joining us and sharing your knowledge and experience with us," Blumenthal and Murphy wrote.