Op-Ed: Connecticut can do more to address substance use disorder
Connecticut has a serious and rapidly growing prescription painkiller and heroin problem. It touches suburban and rural communities alike and is having devastating effects on all segments of our population.
Teenagers, working professionals and grandparents have all overdosed in the past year. In 2014, 307 of our loved ones died in Connecticut of an overdose caused by either heroin or prescription painkillers, according to the Chief Medical Examiner. That number has grown from 257 in 2013 and 174 in 2012.
These trends are not specific to Connecticut. The CDC reports that 8,257 people died of heroin-related deaths in 2013, 39% more than in 2012. Connecticut policy makers have already taken important steps to tackle this tragic trend but more can and should be done.
Substance use disorder is a progressive disease. Tragically, I know how this disease can shatter a family. On Oct. 11, 2011, I lost my son Brian to this disease. He was 25 years old, and still so full of life. In the months following Brian’s death, I left my 25-year career in business and dedicated the rest of my life to sparing other families from the unspeakable tragedy my family has endured. I founded a national organization, Shatterproof, in part to protect our loved ones through commonsense changes in state level public policies.
Gov. Dannel Malloy’s administration has taken important steps to protect our loved ones from dying of an overdose. Good Samaritan laws passed in 2012 have encouraged more people to call 911 and save the life of a friend or loved one who may be experiencing an overdose. Third party prescription laws passed in 2014 now allow healthcare professionals to prescribe the overdose reversing medication Naloxone, commonly known as Narcan, to family members or friends of someone at risk of an overdose.
Connecticut’s prescription monitoring program allows healthcare professionals and pharmacists to see if their patients are potentially abusing prescription medications. Finally, Connecticut state police now universally carry Narcan in their cruisers and have saved 13 lives in the few short months since they were equipped in late October 2014.
But more can and must be done. Gov. Malloy has recently proposed a bill that will make Narcan more widely available by allowing pharmacists to prescribe it to Connecticut families, first responders and the treatment community directly from pharmacies.
This bill will also increase awareness of the danger of overprescribing among Connecticut healthcare professionals through continuing education. And it will strengthen our prescription monitoring program to reduce overprescribing and doctor shopping and allow prescribers to make the most informed treatment decisions possible for their patients.
I applaud Gov. Malloy for this proposal, and I fully support it.
There are two areas not yet covered in this proposal. The Good Samaritan Law that Connecticut passed in 2012 has already saved many lives, and the protections for those that call 911 must be broadened to prevent further tragic loss of life. Eleven other states and the District of Columbia have already done so, and Connecticut should follow suit.
In addition, Connecticut should allocate resources to educate our families about this current epidemic. How many of our families have been shattered because someone did not know of our current Good Samaritan Law? Or of the dangers of leaving unused prescription painkillers in an unlocked medicine cabinet?
I know I speak for other families and victims when I say we have not one more second to spare. My personal mission is to help my son’s death not be in vain, but rather serve as the catalyst to spur needed policy changes to save someone else’s son or daughter. Our legislature must take action and pass these life-saving, addiction-preventing measures.
Gary Mendell, a lifelong Connecticut resident, is the founder and CEO of Shatterproof, the first national organization committed to protecting our children from addiction to alcohol or other drugs. Mendell founded Shatterproof to honor his son, Brian, who lost his battle with addiction in 2011.
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