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Deadly and potent trend in illegal opioids hitting Connecticut streets

TORRINGTON -- A deadly trend in opioids sold on the streets is now sounding the alarm for those working to combat the opioid crisis in Connecticut.

The McCall Center for Behavioral Health in Torrington has served people with addiction for 40 years, but are now feeling a growing urgency for opioid addiction treatment.

"We feel it in terms of case load in terms of severity of need in terms of how quickly people need to get in when they indicate they're ready and willing,” Maria Coutant-Skinner, Executive Director of the McCall Center said about the rising fear of the spike in potency of heroin.

"The presence of fentanyl and now carfentanil in our state is so potent and so the urgency that we have to be to reach people that are struggling is even more critical,” Coutant-Skinner said.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration sent out a warning to police, EMS responders, and the public about the dangerous synthetic drug fentanyl which they call 50 times more potent than heroin alone. They also warn that another version of fentanyl named "carfentanil," is 100 times more potent and 10,000 times more potent than the pain-killer Morphine.

That added danger with the drugs is they can get into a person’s system simply by coming into contact with their skin or eyes. In result, this has caused local police departments to increase their precautionary measures.

"A very small trace amount in contact with your skin, your eyes, your mucous membranes can be deadly,” Lt. Bart Barone, of the Torrington Police Department, explained.

He said this means extra safety regulations had to be put into place for officers who are handling the drug and packaged drug evidence materials.

"We do have gloves, masks, and eye protection. We make sure it’s in a heat sealed bag and then we place it in another evidence sealed bag so that there’s no contamination or possibility of contamination,” Lt. Barone said.

He also said there’s a heightened awareness of these dangers after a police officer in Ohio reportedly brushed off fentanyl residue from his uniform following a drug bust and ended up in the hospital from an overdose due to the skin contact.

Lt. Barone added, “not only is it us, it's people and children that may be exposed accidentally.”

He also said each officer in Torrington is trained in administering the overdose reversal drug Narcan, but that they are now working on getting Narcan on hand for each individual officer as an added layer of protection against exposure.

“We’re in the process of getting Narcan for each officer, our K-9 units currently have Narcan available to them for the K-9’s and the officers,” Lt. Barone said.

The deadly potent heroin mixtures are hitting the streets at a time when the state faces possible federal funding cuts.

"This Trump budget is a betrayal of the work done by our state by professionals in treatment centers by educators to try and save Connecticut from this epidemic and drug abuse,” Senator Blumenthal speaking out strongly to workers at the McCall Center Tuesday.

The Senator urged that the President’s recently proposed budget lowers funds to addiction treatment, research, and prevention, as well as reduces Medicaid spending. Medicaid is a health care service that many people seeking opioid addiction treatment rely on.

At the McCall Center, 15 to 20 percent of their clients utilize Medicaid expansion dollars to supplement the cost of treatment.

"As the grant dollars shrink, that Medicaid expansion that helped to cover people, if that goes away and the grant dollars aren't replaced, which they likely won't be, then I don't know what will happen to McCall and every other place like it,” Coutant-Skinner said.