The writer's son, Alec Pelletier, who died of fentanyl poisoning on his 26th birthday in 2018.

As a result of a lawsuit against Johnson and Johnson, AmerisourceBergen Corp., Cardinal Health, and McKesson Corp, Connecticut will receive over $300 million.

Recently, I submitted testimony in support of HB 5044, an act implementing the governor’s budget recommendations regarding the use of opioid litigation proceeds.

I appreciate the many leaders who have tenaciously fought to contain the opioid epidemic that has plagued our state and who have worked tirelessly to form this bill. In addition, I am grateful for the fight against big pharmaceuticals and the litigation proceeds that will bring much-needed funds for prevention, treatment, and recovery to our state.

Dita Bhargava

But sadly, the outcome of this litigation is not a victory. Over one million people have died in our country due to opioid addiction over the last two decades. The blood of these victims is on the hands of greedy corporations who deceived the public on the addictive nature of opioids and flooded our communities with them. One such victim was my son, Alec Pelletier, who died unwittingly of fentanyl poisoning on his 26th birthday in 2018 while living in a sober home in Canaan .

As a teen, Alec suffered from a mild bipolar condition and was self-medicating – first with readily available opioids, then with heroin. In the end, Alec wanted nothing more than to live a life of sobriety, empowered by the love of his family and friends. During Alec’s seven-year struggle with addiction, my husband and I desperately searched for the proper treatment for him. Alec spent months at different treatment centers focused on his recovery.

Sadly, there was little to no transition plan offered to him at every release. Without the necessary support, the insidious disease of addiction was overwhelmingly difficult to manage. The frustrating experience with navigating treatment centers prompted me to introduce a Shatterproof program called ATLAS to the state of Connecticut, which will help hold treatment centers to a high standard of care and aid families in finding quality care.

Alec’s death was a tragedy for our family and our communities. As a young man, he had so much to offer with his entire life ahead of him as a future taxpayer, husband, and father. He supported many of his friends who leaned on him through their struggles. We have senselessly lost countless young lives like Alec – thousands in the Connecticut over the last several years. It is not only a moral obligation to find solutions to the opioid crisis but a social and economic one. Our young are dying, and life expectancy is dropping due to the opioid pandemic. This public health crisis has severe long-term consequences for the future of our state and country.

HB 5044 will provide the necessary guidelines on using funding towards this crisis. Every dollar must be used impactfully, and for that, I encourage the use of evidence-based models for prevention, treatment, and recovery. A helpful resource on effective spending of the funds is the Principals for the Use of Funds from the Opioid Litigation published by John Hopkins and Bloomberg School of Public Health. Additionally, I would like to emphasize three crucial and bold considerations for the funds:

  1. Expand harm reduction programs for the use of MAT, methadone clinics, and even safe injection sites, including mobile ones, where people can be kept alive and encouraged to seek treatment.
  2. Education: expand youth programs and institute mandatory K-12 SEL education. Evidence-based K-12 life skills programs have reduced substance use disorder by up to 75%. Additionally, fund effective programs that warn kids about the dire dangers of illicit substances.
  3. Introduce a comprehensive plan to reduce the scourge of fentanyl plaguing our state, including harsher penalties for high-level dealers of this poison. Fentanyl was responsible for about 85% of the deaths in Connecticut over the last few years.

Before Alec crossed to the other side, he asked me to talk about his struggles with opioid addiction openly. He wanted to create awareness around this disease so that he and his friends could seek help the way someone would with any other illness — without the barriers of stigma.

In his honor and so many others who have suffered his fate, I have traveled the state organizing public opioid roundtables with legislators, the DMHAS commissioner, public health officials, paramedics, and families. Through this work, I have learned the painful truths of addiction disease, the enormous impact on our communities, and the critical efforts that need to take place today to combat this epidemic.

The litigation funds are a promising start to the massive investment needed to combat the opioid epidemic. As a grieving parent, an ambassador with Shatterproof, and a board member of the Connecticut Women’s Consortium, if asked, I would be honored to help on the committee that will oversee the appropriation of these monies.

Dita Bhargava of Greenwich is a former candidate for State Treasurer.