With the opioid epidemic the subject of both state and federal budget discussions as well as 3 reported overdose deaths in Bristol this past week, Ellen Zoppo-Sassu, Democratic candidate for Mayor, announced her second platform item today – a community action plan to combat the opioid overdose epidemic numbers in Bristol.
Opioid addiction in general, and heroin specifically, have affected hundreds of Bristol families from every socioeconomic background. An article in The New York Times earlier this month reported that drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death among Americans under 50, and the majority of overdose deaths involve an opioid.
“According to the Office of the State Medical Examiner, there were 917 statewide fatal overdoses from 2016, which is up from 729 in 2015. The vast majority of overdoses involve some sort of opioid, and figures don’t include pure alcohol overdoses,” stated Zoppo-Sassu. “Heroin continues to be a problem especially when batches have higher potency due to fentanyl.”
Bristol ranked 4th statewide in 2016, with 35 documented fatal overdoses, behind Hartford, Bridgeport and New Haven. “We all know families who have been touched by this public health crisis,” Zoppo-Sassu said. “It’s time to create an action plan to identify and provide access to the resources Bristol citizens need to be successful in recovery.”
Zoppo-Sassu, who served 4 terms on the City Council and is currently employed as the Director of Communications at the Connecticut Pharmacists Association, noted that the state’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program showed approximately 130,000 – 150,000 prescriptions written for controlled substances in Bristol during 2016. The number of opioid prescriptions prescribed in that time period was between 53,000 and 64,000.
“There are many groups that have the expertise to assist with this issue,” stated Zoppo-Sassu. She noted that the Bristol-Burlington Health District, the Police Department and the Bristol Hospital are key stakeholders for this discussion. The regional Substance Abuse Action Council, pharmacists and other health care providers, Wheeler Clinic, the Board of Education, the Hartford Dispensary, churches, and the various social service agencies are already doing pieces of prevention and treatment.
Many of these groups are already in the trenches and working together,” explained Zoppo-Sassu. “It’s important that the City become a leader in this issue, providing coordination with those organizations which have begun the work and understand the issues.”
“In addition, there are dozens of people living and working in Bristol who have beat their addiction and are champions of recovery, who could provide much needed insight to this issue. We need them at the table as well.”
Across Connecticut, I see communities organizing and fighting back,” stated Zoppo-Sassu. “In Bristol, the Police Department has equipped their officers with Narcan they and are saving lives on a daily basis, as well as addressing the illegal aspects of dealing and distribution. Community health workers and the Hospital’s Emergency Dept. are also connecting people with treatment options. But we need to do more in providing leadership to all of these initiatives.”
The proposed Zoppo-Sassu action plan would include: Prevention, Recovery, Response and Treatment topic groups. According to her, these groups should take the lead on talking and educating about addiction and creating awareness of the danger of opiates to all ages. The city should also define what a community that supports recovery looks like, and respond to some of the issues that drive opioid use including mental health issues.
From a recovery standpoint, Zoppo-Sassu also pointed out that the city also needs to lobby the Legislature and insurance companies to ensure that there are adequate beds available for affordable treatment as well. Being an advocate for those who need these services will benefit the city in the long-term, with less of an impact on social services, potential homelessness, disruption of family and loss of employment.
Connecticut has been a leader in passing legislation that addresses the opioid epidemic, including House Bill 7052 from this past legislative session. These new provisions strengthen the current law and included requiring electronic prescribing to increase the security of opioid prescriptions, reducing opioid prescriptions from 7 days to 5 days for children, and allows patients to file a voluntary non-opioid form in their medical records indicating that they do not want to be prescribed or administered opioid drugs.
“If the revised federal budget bill is approved, it will provide $45 billion, which will most likely flow to states in the form of grants over 10 years. Most of the money would go to addiction treatment, but some would be used to fund research into better treatments for pain and addiction.
Last spring, the Connecticut Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services received $5.5 million to increase access to treatment, reduce unmet treatment need, and reduce opioid-related overdose deaths.
“What this comes down to is that in the case of Bristol, if we don’t have a plan in place, we will not get any of these dollars when they become available and people will continue to die,” said Zoppo-Sassu. “There are no simple solutions, but I feel strongly that if we are going to be an All Heart community, then we should be providing the leadership needed to effectively work with partners to improve prevention efforts, increase access to treatment and provide additional recovery supports for those who are at risk of or recovering from addiction and families who are struggling with the high costs of this illness.”