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Summit held in New London to address heroin epidemic

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NEW LONDON -- The search for answers to address why there’s a rise in heroin overdoses across the state continued Monday.

In New London, state leaders like Sen. Richard Blumenthal and Rep. Joe Courtney joined together for day one of a two-day summit to address the opiod epidemic.

“No part of the country, no family, no region is immune,” said Blumenthal, who has been holding forums throughout the state on the topic of how to address this epidemic.

In less than three weeks Lawrence Memorial Hospital said it's treated about 30 people for heroin overdoses. One person died before reaching the hospital, and the roundtable discussion on treatment and prevention for these overdoses was convened in response.

Statewide, 723 people died in 2015 from heroin, cocaine, or other drugs in Connecticut. The number was released over the weekend to the Hartford Courant from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

President Barack Obama announced last week he is including $1.1 billion in his next budget to fight the epidemic.

“It's important to know though that's a budget for fiscal year ‘17, which doesn't start until October,” said Courtney, who wrote a letter to Obama expressing the need to declare the opioid epidemic a public health emergency. In the letter he also asked for $600 million to be released.

In addition to the politicians, doctors, drug experts and law enforcement were in attendance to work together and think of ways to combat the crisis.

Experts say those most vulnerable to overdose are those just released from jail or a detoxification center. The former commissioner of the state’s Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services was part of the panel discussion.

“If people don't get about 90 days of treatment in some way, shape or form, you don't really get the brain changes you need. And, you may as well throw your money out the window,” said Pat Rehmer, who is now a vice president of Hartford Healthcare following her 15 years with DMHAS.

As heroin continues to claim lives, leaders hope this forum will get more people involved in the fight. Additionally, several families affected by opioid and heroin abuse attended to discuss their experiences.

Allison Kernan, 23, of Fairfield, told the panel she has been clean for just over two months. But she’s got friends who are among those who recently overdosed in southeastern Connecticut.

“There are plenty of numbers that people don't report to the news about overdoses,” said Kernan, who said alcohol, marijuana and prescription pills were her gateways to heroin abuse.

Among the drugs people are overdosing on in alarming numbers is Fentanyl, a synthetic opiate, which is 30- to 50-times more potent than heroin and can be laced in it.

“Fentanyl is a pain reliever used mainly in hospital settings or anesthesia settings, also used for the treatment of cancer type pain,” said Dr. Maura DeJoseph,
the state’s Deputy Chief Medical Examiner.

Overdoses by use of Fentanyl in Connecticut are up 148 percent from 2014 to 15. Heroin overdoses have increased by nearly 30 percent over that same span.

“Cracking down on the suppliers and the distributors, who are profiting from these addictions has to go forward,” said Blumenthal, who acknowledged “we cannot arrest our way out” of this problem.

Gov. Dan Malloy has promised to propose laws during this legislative session that will further increase access to Narcan, a drug that helps reduce the chance of death from a heroin overdose. It is typically administered by emergency response crews and reverses the effects of the overdose. Right now, only some towns and cities through the state use Narcan.

On Tuesday, day two of the forum will be held at 5 p.m. at the Lawrence & Memorial Hospital Board Room, located at 365 Montauk Ave., New London.

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