Today, U.S. Senators Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) met with local service providers, law enforcement, health care advocates, and patients to discuss the growing heroin epidemic in Connecticut. Over the last decade, heroin use has nearly doubled in the United States. In Connecticut and other states in New England, deaths related to heroin use have spiked in the last year. On average, one person dies every day in Connecticut from an opioid overdose.
“This dramatic increase of heroin use and abuse in Connecticut is unlike anything we’ve ever seen,” said Murphy. “Our state has lost hundreds more people to heroin use in the last year, but we’re not doing enough to change the way we address this crisis. This is a complex problem that requires better coordination between governments, health care providers, and law enforcement so that resources are allocated in the most effective way possible. I’m committed to fighting for increased support for all those addressing this epidemic – we can’t wait any longer.”
“Heroin deaths in Connecticut have doubled over the past year, a burgeoning, exploding crisis that requires immediate, substantial attention—from law enforcement, from medical and mental health professionals, and from our communities,” said Blumenthal. “There is no room for turf wars—this epidemic requires the attention and collaboration of federal, state and local officials. There is a beltway of cheap, highly toxic and highly pure heroin coming into the country and our communities from organized corporate cartels in Colombia and Mexico. We cannot mince words or waste time. These cartels are making billions of dollars at the expense of our lives and health and we need to crack down hard.”
During today’s press conference, Murphy and Blumenthal outlined specific steps they will support on the federal and state level to reduce the scourge of heroin addiction and deaths. These actions are intended to help reduce heroin overdoses in Connecticut and the rest of the country.
· Increased Funding for Treatment – Murphy and Blumenthal called for an increase in funding for treatment through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). The Obama Administration’s recently requested level funding at $1.8 billion despite the increase in heroin overdoses.
· Increased Support for Law Enforcement Crackdown on Trafficking – The Connecticut State Police and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) report seeing a tremendous rise in heroin trafficking and use in the Northeast and the entire United States. The Statewide Narcotics Task Force, which is a coordinated effort between the Connecticut State Police, local law enforcement agencies and the DEA, needs expanded federal funding to handle the rise in “tainted” heroin and trafficking. Murphy and Blumenthal are calling for stable federal funding for the Task Force and the federal High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) Program that can be directed towards cracking down on trafficking rings and suppliers in Connecticut’s largest cities that are the main source of heroin for the state.
· Increased Prevention Focused on Heroin and Prescription Drug Abuse – The Obama Administration recently requested $10 million for enhancing, implementing and evaluating strategies to help prevent prescription drug misuse and abuse. Murphy and Blumenthal are calling for this funding to also target heroin abuse given the close connection between heroin use and prescription drug abuse. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, nearly half of young people who inject heroin reported abusing prescription opioids before starting to use heroin. Some individuals reported taking up heroin because it is less expensive and easier to obtain than prescription opioids.
· Increased Availability of Heroin Overdose Prevention Drug – State governments should pass Good Samaritan laws that provide immunity to anyone who administers treatment for a drug overdose. This would enable friends, family, and first responders to carry and administer the drug – commonly known as Naloxone – without the fear of being sued for damages if the victim cannot be saved. Naloxone is a safe prescription medication with no abuse potential and can be easily administered via injection or nasal spray.
· Promote Community Collaboration – Addressing the underlying causes of abuse of prescription drugs and the transition that many make to heroin requires multiple partners on the federal, state and local levels. Hospitals, addiction services centers, elected officials, law enforcement, and others must come together to address drug abuse and what’s required to help individuals who are impacted by addiction.