When three 13-year-old boys were sickened by the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl at a Hartford middle school on Jan. 13, it was a shocking reminder of the human toll of the opioid crisis. One of the boys later died and a sweep of the school surfaced 40 small plastic bags of the drug. Later that same day, dozens of people spoke out against a proposal to locate a methadone clinic on a commercial street on the New Haven-Hamden border. During the ongoing battle with COVID-19, there seems to be less attention being paid to opioid addiction, advocates say.
In 2018, Dean and Paula Palozej found their son, Spencer, on the floor of his home in Manchester. Spencer was one day shy of his 30th birthday and he was found dead of a fentanyl overdose. Spencer, who worked as a landscaper, started taking oxycodone for pain after two surgeries in his early 20s. A friend told his father that he took a fentanyl pill thinking it was oxycodone. Palozej unloaded on the pharmaceutical industry, which is blamed by many for the explosion in prescription opioid use and abuse nationwide over the past two decades. “I’m disgusted with what they did—the greed they had,” he said.
William Evans grew up in Brookfield, a high school tennis player from a family with an Ivy League pedigree. By the time he was working at his first job after college, he was addicted to opioids, spending $25,000 in less than a year and driving to Philadelphia twice a week to buy drugs on the street. Now 37, Evans hasn’t used illegal drugs since 2006. He is married and has a 3-year-old daughter, a home in Trumbull, and a sales job at a software company. He attributes his sobriety to counseling and medication to treat his addiction.
In less than eight hours last June, Yale New Haven’s emergency department treated 12 patients who had overdosed on opioids. Three died; nine were saved. With opioids in wide circulation, Dr. Gail D’Onofrio, chief of emergency medicine at the hospital and chair of emergency medicine at Yale School of Medicine, isn’t sure that one-day spike will stand as a record. “To be honest, no, I don’t expect the numbers to get better,” D’Onofrio said. “We’re going to have more treatment options in Connecticut, I think, more safe prescribing — but I don’t know that we’ll see improvements in the numbers of people using.”
D’Onofrio’s concerns are borne out in a recent report by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) that ranks Connecticut the 5th highest among 30 states in the rate of opioid-related emergency department (ED) visits — 254.6 per 100,000 population in 2014, well above national rate of 177.7.
People addicted to drugs such as heroin, morphine and prescription pain medicine who receive treatment with medication in hospital emergency departments fare better than those who are merely referred to treatment services, according to new research from the Yale School of Medicine. Researchers have conducted the first known random trial comparing three treatment strategies for people dependent on opioids who seek emergency care. The opioids include hydrocodone and oxycodone, in addition to heroin and morphine. Among the more than 300 people in the trial, patients in emergency departments who received buprenorphine, a medication that reduces opioid cravings, had greater success than those treated in other ways, researchers found. Opioid addicts often seek care in hospital emergency departments for overdoses or other issues, according to researchers.