Has the opioid epidemic reached Wilton?
Opioid misuse and heroin addiction have become an epidemic, but whether or not the widespread problem has significantly affected Wilton is hard to say.
Opioids are medications that relieve pain, including hydrocodone, oxycodone, morphine and codeine, and the illegal drug heroin is part of this opiate family. Fentanyl is a synthetic form of opioid that is 50 times more potent than morphine or heroin. It is often mixed with heroin.
On March 14, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker signed a measure that limits initial opioid prescriptions to seven-day periods, and Connecticut may soon follow suit.
A bill to put the seven-day cap on opioid prescriptions passed through the Connecticut General Assembly’s Public Health Committee on Monday, March 21, with no opposing votes.
This follows the U.S. Senate passing legislation March 10 that would authorize grants for states to combat and treat opioid addiction.
In testimony to Congress on Jan. 27, Nora D. Volkow, M.D., director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, called the issue “a public health epidemic with devastating consequences.”
“An estimated 1.9 million people in the United States suffered from substance use disorders related to prescription opioid pain medicines in 2014, and 586,000 suffered from a heroin use disorder,” Volkow said.
This was an update to her 2014 testimony, when she told Congress “what was once almost exclusively an urban problem is spreading to small towns and suburbs.”
“We have not had many cases,” Wilton police Chief Robert Crosby told The Bulletin. Crosby said he’s noticed the problem affecting other area towns, but “there’s nothing like that here, yet.”
Figures from Crosby’s department show there were two opioid overdoses in Wilton last year. There was one in 2014, and one in 2013. In 2012, there were none. In Wilton from2012 through 2015, one death had been opioid-induced — in 2013.
But that only shows, for the period, how many fatal and nonfatal overdoses fell within the Wilton Police Department’s jurisdiction; it doesn’t reveal how many people from Wilton overdosed and/or died out of town.
“We’ve used Narcan a few times this year,” Wilton Volunteer Ambulance Corps President Wendy Fratino told The Bulletin. Narcan — commercial naloxone — is an opiate antidote that comes in intravenous as well as nasal-spray forms.
“We haven’t seen many overdoses at the high school level,” Fratino added. “It’s mostly been adults.”
Dorrie Carolan of Newtown Parent Connection said “we’ve had a few people from Wilton” come to her and her organization for support since the epidemic hit.
“I’d say we’ve had 10 people, in the last couple of years, come up from Wilton,” Carolan said.
The Rev. Dr. Jason Coker of Wilton Baptist Church said he’s “very aware” of rises in opioid misuse, and that he’s “seen a handful of kids from this town die from it,” though none to have sought his pastoral care personally.
“They went to college, and/or graduated college, and got out, and have died either from heroin overdose, or other problems related to addiction,” Coker said.
Statewide, the crisis is very serious.
On Feb. 14, the state Office of the Chief Medical Examiner reported year-by-year statistics for accidental drug intoxication deaths that occurred in Connecticut between 2012 and 2015.
The report shows that opioid-related deaths in Connecticut have been rising in number since 2012, so much so that in 2015 there were more than twice as many as there were then — 444 compared to 195.
The report also indicates that for each year from 2012 to 2015, most accidental intoxication deaths in Connecticut were opioid-related. About 61% of all fatal overdoses in 2015 involved some form of opioid.
The consequences of opioid abuse “have been devastating and are on the rise,” Volkow said in her 2014 testimony.
“Several factors are likely to have contributed to the severity of the current prescription drug abuse problem,” she said. “They include drastic increases in the number of prescriptions written and dispensed, greater social acceptability for using medications for different purposes, and aggressive marketing by pharmaceutical companies.”
Furthermore, there is “growing evidence to suggest a relationship between increased non-medical use of opioid analgesics and heroin abuse in the United States.”
One of the problems with prescription opioid misuse and abuse is that once the user becomes addicted to the narcotic, he or she will attempt to buy it illegally on the streets, where heroin can be cheaper and easier to obtain.
“The emergence of chemical tolerance toward prescribed opioids, perhaps combined in a smaller number of cases with an increasing difficulty in obtaining these medications illegally may, in some instances explain the transition to abuse of heroin, which is cheaper and in some communities easier to obtain than prescription opioids,” Volkow said.
The total number of opioid pain reliever prescriptions in the United States, according to Volkow, has “skyrocketed” in the past 25 years.
The number “escalated from around 76 million in 1991 to nearly 207 million in 2013, with the United States the biggest consumer globally, accounting for almost 100% of the world total for hydrocodone, and 81% for oxycodone,” Volkow said in her 2014 testimony.
The number of overdose deaths due to the prescription of opioid pain relievers has “more than tripled in the past 20 years, escalating to 16,651 deaths in the United States in 2010.”
“The number of past-year heroin users in the United States nearly doubled between 2005 and 2012, from 380,000 to 670,000,” Volkow said. “In 2010, there were 2,789 fatal heroin overdoses, approximately a 50% increase over the relatively constant level seen during the early 2000s.”
Narcan is available at Bissell’s Pharmacy in Ridgefield. It can be purchased anonymously and does not require a prescription.
Fratino advised The Bulletin that Narcan isn’t 100% effective, and that people who administer it should know that patients who come out of an overdose can sometimes be combative.
All Wilton Volunteer Ambulance Corps vehicles are equipped with the antidote.
The closest addiction treatment center is Connecticut Counseling Centers in Danbury.