Connecticut Struggles with Opioid Overdose Epidemic

Connecticut+Struggles+with+Opioid+Overdose+Epidemic

Extremely potent drug, fentanyl, causes overdoses across the state and country

IZZY PAGGIOLI

100 times stronger than heroin, and the cause of over 40,000 overdose deaths nationally in 2020, fentanyl’s potency makes it a cheap and deadly additive in the drug market.

The booming market for heroin and fentanyl has become more prevalent over the last 10 years. Fentanyl has been added into a variety of substances, especially heroin to increase the volume of the drug at a cheaper rate.

The amount of fentanyl that could kill you compared to the size of a penny (PHOTO:DEA.GOV).

At ELHS, drug and alcohol counselor Jenna Deluca offers a way for students to confidentially talk about not just their own, but the experiences of friends and family. She explains that most students don’t initiate drug use because they expect an overdose; it starts out as fun and leads to emotional and physical consequences.

“Most students just need someone to talk to that they can be honest with, someone that ‘gets it’ and someone who hears them and makes them feel safe. That’s my number one goal – to be the individual in the building that they can trust. And when/if they are ready to change or are in a crisis, I am there to help guide them,” Ms. Delucia said.

Around 2015, the rise of synthetic opioids caused a nationwide epidemic. According to the CDC, in 2017, 60 percent of opioid related deaths involved fentanyl compared to 14 percent in 2010; across the nation, 128 people die every day from overdose.

Officer Don Hull investigates drug dealing in East Lyme.

“It’s never been this bad; there’s more opioid deaths than ever across the country. Our numbers are a record high every year. We’re obviously not doing enough to help people because there’s just way too many people that are in that situation for whatever reason,” Officer Hull said.

“People think you have to use drugs for years on end to get an overdose. That’s not the case. With fentanyl, it’s so potent that it’s too much for your body to handle,” Officer Hull said.

According to Officer Hull, people don’t fully realize the potency of fentanyl.

“Imagine seven grains of sugar, that’s all it would take to kill you. It’s so powerful, and so scary, you can get sick from just touching it,” Officer Don said.

The CDC is working to combat this through programs like Overdose Data to Action (OD2A) which funds health departments for surveillance and prevention efforts as well as using law enforcement to address the growing illicit opioid problem.

Specifically in East Lyme, there were a total of 15 reported overdoses in 2020; as well as three deaths due to heroin or fentanyl.

Changes in synthetic opioid overdoses from 2018 to 2019 show a rise of 23 percent in CT; darker colors represent a larger percentage change (PHOTO:CDC).

Starting out in the 1990s, doctors increased prescribing opioids for chronic pain. According to Pain Management specialist John Paggioli, M.D, hospitals were under pressure by the federal government to treat pain aggressively, and pain became the fifth vital sign (indicating the state of a patient).

“People who were genetically predisposed enjoyed the feeling, especially the relief from anxiety and depression,” Dr. Paggioli said.

At this time, oxycontin, a long acting form of oxycodone, a pain reliever, became available and mistakenly thought to be less addictive. Due to the drug abuse crisis and the addictive nature of oxycontin, doctors drastically cut back on prescribing, making pills harder to get and more expensive. Because of the lack of available opioid pills, people then made the leap to cheaper heroin. Dealers were able to make the heroin stronger and cheaper by adding fentanyl, a synthetic opioid.

“Originally the drug crisis and deaths were from pills, especially oxycontin, now the problem involves drugs laced with fentanyl,” Dr. Paggioli explained.

From personal experience, Ms. Delucia has lost clients and friends to overdoses. She will celebrate 10 years of recovery herself this year and encourages students to talk about their experiences.

“Many of the problems we have now are because we cannot have an open and honest conversation about drugs, addiction, and recovery. Stigma reinforces shame. Shame reinforces stigma,” Ms. Delucia said. “At East Lyme, students can reach out to any counselor or administrator, and they will be guided to me – no questions asked. The best way to get in touch with me is through Ms. Hurlock in A250.”