Connecticut’s Great Face-Off: Opiates and Legalized Pot vs. Addiction Treatment

Connecticut's Great Face-off- Opiates & Legalized pot vs addiction treatment

Over the last few years, Connecticut has faced a growing epidemic of opioid overdoses. The state, ranked 11th in highest overdose rates, saw 27.4 deaths per 100,000 residents in 2016. Overdose deaths have grown from 357 in 2012 to 1,038 in 2017, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Connecticut’s cities and towns have taken a number of measures to try to combat this worsening epidemic. Yet, even as the state takes these steps, there seems to be pressure on all sides.

Blaming the Drug Makers and Hitting a Brick Wall

The opioid crisis is, in part, due to the over-prescribing of painkillers by doctors. This isn’t just happening in Connecticut but around the country. In 2015, doctors and nurses in the state wrote 2.3 million prescriptions for pain medications to residents. That means there were 64 prescriptions written for every 100 people in the state, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

With a large number of people using and becoming addicted to opioids, it became important to point the finger at the real culprit behind these dangerous and addictive drugs. That’s why cities like Bridgeport, New Haven and Waterbury, along with 34 other cities and towns in the state, filed a lawsuit against Purdue Pharma.

The lawsuit stood to help these cities and towns regain some of the financial losses they suffered at the hands of overdose deaths and addiction, potentially funneling millions of dollars back into the state to help fight addiction. But Judge Thomas Moukawsher in Hartford threw out that legal action, ruling the case wasn’t filed properly. Purdue Pharma responded that it believed the judge’s actions were appropriate. They noted that they could not be held responsible for the indirect harm attributed to opioids.

Still, across the United States, there are over 1,000 pending lawsuits against drug makers filed by state and local governments. They all seek to hold manufacturers responsible for the lack of precautions taken to prevent such a crisis from occurring.

Legalization of Pot Doesn’t Make Addiction Easier

Around every corner, there seems to be more acceptance regarding pot use and even greater encouragement to use marijuana— an addictive drug. When 30 percent of those who use marijuana have a substance use disorder, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, it is clear that marijuana is not a harmless drug.

But that’s not what a billboard from Weedmaps, off Interstate 91 in New Haven, would tell you: it encourages viewers to drive another 60 miles to where “weed is legal”— an invitation that for someone with a substance use disorder is hardly harmless.

In response, a residential drug and alcohol treatment program called “Turnbridge” placed a second sign right on the same billboard, stating, “Addiction treatment is closer.” The effort is meant to combat a growing trend around pot that dismisses its dangers. As noted by the family outreach specialist for Turnbridge, there has been a significant shift in the opinion that marijuana is dangerous. Consequently, younger kids are using it, putting an increased number of people at risk.

Consider that, the same study noted previously, findings that those who start using pot before the age of 18 are four to seven times more likely to develop a substance use disorder when they are adults. Currently, there are four million people in the country with a specific marijuana use disorder, as of 2015.

What’s Happening in Connecticut

Connecticut continues to work toward improving the drug use epidemic there. Some key factors are impacting this work, as reported by the CT Mirror.

  • The opioid epidemic is impacting every gender, race and age group in the state.
  • The largest increase in this drug use is occurring in urban regions where opioid-related overdose deaths are on the rise.
  • Connecticut has also seen a significant increase in the number of people using heroin and the even more dangerous opiate fentanyl.

The state has passed the “Good Samaritan Law,” which aims to encourage people to call for emergency help if they see someone overdosing. The “Narcan Law” also passed, in 2011, allowing doctors to prescribe, dispense and administer Narcan to any person who needs it.

On the same front, the “Change the Script” awareness campaign has been at work in the last few years, distributing materials and educating the public on the potential risks of prescription pain medications. The campaign is also working to improve residents’ access to emergency help in cases of overdose.

The establishment of “Connecticut Opioid Response” initiative, or CORE, aims to create an evidence-based strategy to reduce the impact of this crisis on the state as a whole. That includes taking legal action against manufacturers who use misleading marketing of drugs.

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