BRIDGEPORT — The nation’s opioid crisis is bad and getting worse — and the same can be said for Connecticut, the state’s chief medical examiner said Monday.
In 2016 alone, “more people died from overdoses than died from homicides, suicides, and motor vehicle collisions combined,” said medical examiner James Gill. He said his office sees at least two or three overdose deaths a day, and as many as five or six.
“We definitely see that the numbers are not decreasing,” he said.
Gill spoke Monday at Housatonic Community College as part of a summit on the opioid epidemic organized by U.S. Senators Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.). The event was attended by more than 200 legislators, prevention providers, law enforcement officials, health care providers and others concerned with stemming the state’s opioid crisis.
“This crisis is getting worse and not better, despite the work we’re putting into it,” Murphy said. “We’re going in the wrong direction.”
Blumenthal, meanwhile, alluded to the fact the summit was taking place the same week that the U.S. Senate is considering a health bill to replace the Affordable Care Act. Some, including Blumenthal and Murphy, have said that the proposed bill could make the country’s opioid crisis worse.
In a report released last week, Murphy said, under the proposed legislation, “Those who need treatment most could be kicked off of their health insurance and lose access to addiction services, or go bankrupt trying to pay for it.”
At Monday’s summit, Blumenthal echoed Murphy’s thoughts. “We are beginning a week that will be an epic struggle to preserve what you are doing,” Blumenthal told the crowd.
Politics aside, Gill pointed out that the skyrocketing numbers of opioid addiction deaths in the state speak for themselves. He said, in 2016, there were 917 accidental overdose deaths in the state — up from 495 in 2013.
Of the 2016 deaths, Gill said, 853 involved opioids in some way, and, of those, 57 percent involved the drug fetanyl, a potent synthetic opioid.
“The opioid crisis is real and not an exaggeration,” he said.
The event’s keynote speaker was Dr. Bertha Madras, a professor at Harvard Medical School and one of five members of President Donald Trump’s Commission on Combatting Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis.
Madras offered several harrowing statistics, including that 91 percent of patients in the United States who overdose continue to get opioids prescribed to them by their doctors, largely because the doctors aren't aware of the patients’ histories.
“We are currently a nation awash with pills — with opioid pills,” she said.
During the event, those in attendance were asked to break into small groups and asked to identify, among other things, barriers that keep different sectors from working together to solve the opioid crisis, as well as ideas for some of the best ways to prevent and treat addiction.
Barriers include poor communication and a lack of transparency between partners, as well as a dearth of standardized guidelines for addressing addiction issues.
The ideas brainstormed during these sessions will be compiled and sent to Madras, her task force, and the president. Hopefully, the summit will lead to some forward momentum on addiction issues, said Ludwig Spinelli, CEO of Optimus Health Care, which runs 23 locations in Bridgeport, Stratford, Stamford and Milford.
“We know what needs to be done,” Spinelli said. “The question is, do we have the will to do it?"