Editorial: Opioid crisis is still with us

While the COVID-19 pandemic maintains its stranglehold on the nation, we cling to hopes it will end in the near future.

Another social “virus,” though, has never gone away, and perhaps never will.

Before the coronavirus put everyone on high alert in March, the opioid crisis was a steady drumbeat throughout Connecticut communities. Most people have not been listening for it in recent months, but that drumbeat has only become louder.

Back in 2019 — which now seems impossibly out of reach — there were a documented 1,200 opioid deaths in Connecticut, a sad record for the state.

That figure will almost surely be lapped in weeks to come, as Connecticut has experienced a 22-percent spike in fatal overdoses this year.

Like the pandemic, this crisis isn’t limited to Connecticut. The Overdose Detection Mapping Application Program (odmap.org/) identified an 18-percent national increase in drug overdoses in the first two months after sheltering protocols began.

The ODMAP data also offers a reminder that — like the pandemic — this virus knows no boundaries. It suggests overdose clusters are drifting from urban locations into suburban and rural areas.

While the pandemic has drawn attention away from the opioid crisis, experts agree it also fuels addictions.

For people coping with dependencies as well as depression, isolation is an enemy. And while most traditional businesses have been stifled by social protocols, the pipeline to narcotics remains open.

We follow daily fever charts on national, state and local trends regarding COVID-19, but the hidden victims of the pandemic can never be tracked. Among those are people facing intense anxieties brought on by sudden financial and personal calamities.

The alarm was sounded recently at a roundtable discussion led by Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz that included representation from nonprofits and the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, pointed to federal funding that has recently been approved, as well as a package that failed in the Senate. Either way, he noted, it’s not nearly enough.

“This country has to recognize that the spread of the coronavirus is only aggravated if we fail to deal with the growing opioid epidemic,” Blumenthal said. “It’s an epidemic that has preceeded coronavirus and it has been aggravated by it.”

International Overdose Awareness Day was Aug. 31. It heralds the time of year when days grow shorter, darkness sets in, temperatures drop, flu season arrives and more time is spent indoors. None of these conditions are encouraging for people addicted to drugs and alcohol.

In recognizing the day here in Connecticut, Gov. Ned Lamont said, “Addiction is an illness that should be treated just as any other public health emergency, and we cannot allow this epidemic to continue consuming our families and residents.”

“We need to send the message that this disorder can no longer hide in the shadows and be treated like something that shouldn’t be discussed,” he continued. “Resources are available for those seeking treatment, as well as for the families and loved ones who want to provide support. We need to spread this message of hope far and wide so that we can save lives or even prevent someone from going down the path of addiction altogether.”

Municipalities need to focus on enhancing training for public safety workers to administer Narcan, which can reverse the effects of an overdose and is now more readily available to the public.

People in crisis need to know they get help by calling 1-800-563-4086 or 211.

And friends and strangers need to be vigilant in keeping an eye out for one another — even if it’s from a distance.

Hearst Connecticut Media