It’s “a time bomb that’s been going on continuously for several years.”
This statement by Connecticut Consumer Protection Commissioner Jonathan Harris is an accurate description of the opioid crisis in Connecticut and across the nation. The CDC reports that 91 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose.
Connecticut leaders decided it’s time to do something about these numbers. Led by Gov. Dannel Malloy, the state’s senators, Connecticut politicians, medical professionals and mental health officials are banding together to implement the CORE Initiative (Connecticut Opioid REsponse).
This initiative aims to tackle every aspect of the opioid epidemic. The goal is to develop and implement “a strategic plan to address use, addiction and overdose.” The CORE Initiative includes plans to address treatment, education, risk reduction, and outreach.
For treatment, Connecticut hopes to achieve an expansion of opioid treatment programs, including long- and short-term services, increased DATA waivers and support services for office-based treatment, as well as increased collaboration between hospital, criminal justice, emergency crews and syringe exchange programs.
The initiative aims to educate both healthcare providers and the public regarding treatments, including the use of opioid agonists.
To reduce risk, the plan includes naloxone distribution in primary care settings, pain clinics and treatment programs, plus increased efforts for dose reduction in medical settings.
Officials hope to further increase access to care by encouraging peer-driven interventions, rapid response to overdose events and the removal of barriers such as co-pays and prior authorization requirements.
Putting Dollars Where They’re Needed
Currently, Connecticut spends over $65 million annually on opioid dependency treatment. Malloy explained, “This plan will help ensure that those dollars are spent on the best and most effective ways possible.”
Jeremy Barowsky, medical director of Greenwich Hospital’s Addiction Recovery Center notes, “It gives us some shared language that we can use with other hospitals, physicians and medical specialists, and underscores that this is not a fringe issue – this is something that kills more people than gun violence, HIV/AIDS or auto accidents.”
Current efforts include intense training of emergency department staff on overdose protocols, as well as support from Connecticut Counseling Centers (CCC). The CCCs provide education and support to both opioid users and their families and serve as methadone clinics. The Western Connecticut Health Network has also made strides with its telemedicine program. Patients are seen via iChat by crisis clinicians and can receive diagnosis and treatment without making the journey to the main hospital.
Last year, the state increased access to naloxone by passing legislation that allows prescribers to prescribe, dispense or administer naloxone directly to consumers who request it. Barkowsky explained, “It’s sort of an EpiPen for OD’s.” Hartford police and fire department members now carry Narcan.
The state also hopes to increase access to mental health services. The Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services Commissioner Mirian Delphin-Rittmon noted, “People with mental health issues tend to be more prone to becoming addicted, and vice-versa.” The agency has recently received two grants totaling nearly $1.4 million, to address prevention and expand access to buprenorphine (a drug used to treat opioid addiction).
Connecticut officials hope the CORE Initiative, combined with funding from the 21st Century Cures Act, will provide accessible treatment to those in desperate need of solutions.
Additional Reading: Spotlight on the Billion Dollar 21st Century Cures Act
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