To reduce deaths from opioids, CT needs safe-use sites
Connecticut is witnessing a tragic epidemic of unintentional drug overdose fatalities, many attributed to illicit opioids, fentanyl, and stimulants. This crisis has reached catastrophic levels, tearing apart families and communities. In 2022, these devastating substances claimed the lives of 1,452 individuals in this state, leaving behind a wake of heartbreak and loss.
Many of us have witnessed the heartbreak of losing a loved one to the opioid crisis, adding a profound layer of personal tragedy to this heartbreaking statistic. The pain of seeing someone you care about suffer or, tragically, not being able to save them is an experience that has touched far too many lives. As a professional registered nurse, mother, community member and educator, I cannot stress enough how urgent the situation is.
Another devastating reality is that the opioid and fentanyl crisis in Connecticut has begun to see a startling rise in infant fatalities due to overdoses. A recent report from the Office of the Child Advocate, an organization dedicated to safeguarding the welfare of Connecticut’s children, revealed that between 2019 and 2022, 8.2% of unnatural deaths among infants and toddlers under three were attributed to this life-claiming drug, a cause that had never been recorded prior to 2019.
A research letter on national trends in pediatric deaths from fentanyl identified that the drug was involved in a staggering 37.5% of fatal pediatric opioid poisonings from 1999 to 2021, accounting for 5,194 out of 13,861 deaths nationally. The opioid crisis among adults significantly affects children’s safety, health, and overall welfare. Infants and toddlers risk unintentionally ingesting fatal opioids or fentanyl or touching surfaces contaminated with residue and then putting their hands in their mouths. Even a minuscule amount of fentanyl can be lethal for adults, not to mention the extreme danger it poses to infants and toddlers.
These are young lives lost, families shattered, and futures cut short. We must advocate for better control of opioid and fentanyl use, educate the public, and promote responsible prescribing and use of opioids. Access to Narcan is a crucial tool that can save adults’ and young people’s lives. However, we can do more to reduce the devastating numbers of overall opioid and fentanyl overdose deaths and protect the most vulnerable members of our society – our children – by keeping opioid and substance use off the streets and outside of homes.
Earlier this year, a bill that would have included “safe use” sites was debated by Connecticut lawmakers. The bill as passed is set to take effect in 2027 but will include only “harm reduction” sites that will not allow on-site substance use. Legislators on the Public Health Committee decided not to proceed with the proposal for safe-use sites due to concerns about federal restrictions that could jeopardize the state’s ability to fund these services using money from settlements against opioid distributors and manufacturers.
The future harm reduction sites still represent a positive move toward providing crucial support, education on safe use, overdose prevention, and, most importantly, access to recovery treatment and mental health care services in 2027.
However, during the early 2024 session, it is imperative for lawmakers to thoroughly reassess and reevaluate the pressing need for safe-use sites in Connecticut. Legislation should prioritize the passage of a new bill that permits the provision of clean paraphernalia and ensures supervised on-site safe use, accompanied by comprehensive support services for rehabilitation and mental health care.
This revised approach could also explore funding from alternative sources such as nonprofits and private donations. It is critical to acknowledge that the number of accidental overdoses is likely to continue rising until 2027. To safeguard the well-being of our communities, healthcare systems, first responders, and the safety and health of substance users, it is essential to implement safe-use sites.
On October 24, 2023, during a press conference in New Haven, Connecticut, the New Haven Hispanic Clergy Association expressed their concerns and opposition to establishing safe-use sites. They cited potential risks, including increased criminal activity and higher drug consumption. While concerns about increased crime and drug use have been voiced, it is crucial to remember that the primary objective of these sites is harm reduction for all. The opposition’s concerns are valid, but the potential for saving lives and steering individuals toward recovery must not be overlooked. Safe-use sites and overdose prevention sites have been proven effective in other regions, reducing overdose deaths and providing a gateway to treatment for many.
For instance, during the first three months of OnPoint in New York City, safe injection sites prevented over 150 overdoses, and no deaths have been recorded within consumption sites in other countries that permit them. This evidence underscores the potential positive impact of such sites in Connecticut and the approach to reduce opioid overdoses, save lives, and provide essential resources such as Narcan and fentanyl test strips. These sites could be an additional beacon of hope for families, communities, and those battling opioid use disorder, as well as powerful tools for education, awareness, and access to mental and health care and recovery.
Safehouse in Philadelphia’s evidence on Overdose Prevention Sites (OPS) shows several benefits:
- No fatal overdoses at OPS.
- Fewer fatal overdoses in nearby areas after OPS setup.
- OPS improves the community’s quality of life by reducing drug-related problems without causing more crime.
- OPS increases access to drug treatment.
- OPS prevents various health problems from drug use, saving money for the healthcare system.
- OPS saves taxpayer money by reducing healthcare and emergency response costs.
We are facing a health crisis and battling a monster stealing lives. This devastating epidemic shows no mercy, sparing no one based on age, social status, or economic class. It is a relentless thief of lives, claiming victims daily. It is time for all of us to come together, act, and be the change Connecticut desperately needs to combat this epidemic. We can not afford to wait any longer; immediate action is our only defense, and four years from now is too long a wait.
It’s time for Connecticut to address this public health crisis, protect our friends, family, and children from unintentional opioid and fentanyl deaths, and support the implementation of safe-use sites. Lives are counting on it!
Adelicia Beltz is a Registered Nurse and CNA Instructor at Housatonic Community College in Bridgeport. She is a candidate in the Doctor of Nursing Practice-Family Nurse Practitioner program at Sacred Heart University’s College of Nursing.
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