With drug deaths up 44%, an insurer bankrolls a new approach

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Gov. Dannel P. Malloy

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy urged a Hartford audience Tuesday to take up his grim new morning reading habit: He scans the obituary pages for the sudden deaths of young adults, too often the telltale sign of what he says is Connecticut’s raging opioid epidemic.

Malloy talked about his new practice of decoding death notices for evidence of overdoses at the kickoff of a three-year effort in Hartford to test new ways to attack drug addiction before it takes root in vulnerable teens, a project financed by the charitable foundation of UnitedHealthcare.

Connecticut drug fatalities have jumped 44 percent in three years from 10.5 to 15.1 deaths per 100,000, according to America’s Health Rankings Annual Report. While the state ranks third in overall good health, it has more drug deaths per capita than 27 states.

“This is important work. We have to beat this back,” Malloy said.

The United Health Foundation is providing $2.35 million for two projects: One providing behavioral health care at two pediatric practices; the other an outreach to Hartford parents and children, a reaction to data showing Hispanic children with higher drug abuse rates.

The Village for Families & Children, a non-profit agency that began two centuries ago as an orphanage, will provide behavioral health services at pediatric practices run by the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center in East Hartford and West Hartford.

The Governor’s Prevention Partnership will work with Family Life Education on ways to reinforce in-school addiction awareness efforts and to introduce programs to identify high-risk youths and refer them to support services.

At the end of the three-year programs, The Village and The Governor’s Partnership are to report the effectiveness of their work and make recommendations on how it might be replicated.

“Addiction is a disease. It is a not a human failure,” Malloy said. “It is a public health crisis.”

Hartford was one of three cities chosen for multi-year health projects by the foundation, which has given away $315 million worldwide since its founding in 1999. UnitedHealth is based in Minnesota, but it has a major presence in Hartford.

Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin said the grant addressed a significant public-health challenge and was evidence of a positive working relationship with a major employer.

“One of the things that we’ve been working hard to do is build strong relationships with our corporate community,” Bronin said. “Those are the relationships that had weakened and frayed over the years, but we’ve been working hard to rebuild them. In this case UnitedHealthcare is a company that has been committed to the city for a while. This is a significant commitment of financial resources in the area of their expertise.”

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