Officials rally to fight opioid abuse
GREENWICH — U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal came to Greenwich Friday to show support for federal legislation to provide more resources toward the fight against opioid addiction.
A bill is expected to be voted on by the U.S. Senate next week.
“This is a sweeping measure that has bipartisan support, strong support on both sides of the aisle, because there is nothing partisan about the opioid epidemic,” Blumenthal said during a morning press conference at Town Hall also attended by First Selectman Peter Tesei, Police Chief James Heavey and others. “It affects Republicans and Democrats and everyone else.”
The bill, tentatively scheduled for a Monday vote, includes requirements for drug companies to disclose payments to nurse practitioners and physician’s assistants, money for drug take-back programs and additional support for law enforcement departments.
It also include $1.5 billion in funding over three years for programs that provide treatment for people suffering from substance abuse, which Blumenthal said could result in $5 million to $10 million going to Connecticut.
“This money is inadequate to fully address the problem and we need to be very realistic about the challenges,” Blumenthal said, adding deaths from opioids has reached 1,000 per year in Connecticut and 72,000 nationwide. “It does also provide support for some prevention programs and we know addiction for many families begins in the medicine cabinet at home. Ridding the medicine cabinet of unused or unnecessary powerful pain killers can help forestall young people from having access to them.”
Blumenthal said he would push Senate colleagues to do more, and hopes for support from the White House where President Donald Trump has expressed his desire to fight the epidemic.
“This kind of investment has to be a priority,” Blumenthal said. “It’s investment in our children to prevent them from being lured or enticed into lifetimes of addiction and disease. … I hope the president will put money where his mouth is, literally, and he will commit resources and invest. It’s not just money spent, it’s investing in preventing this problem before it burgeons out of control.”
Other senators are visiting their home states this weekend to mobilize support before the vote next week and “put additional pressure on the administration to do the right thing,” he said.
Blumenthal, who is a town resident, praised Tesei for the steps he has taken as first selectman to deal with the opioid problem, which have included efforts to educate people about the dangers of the drugs and to identify and reach out to those who need help.
“We cannot get to the source,” Tesei said. “We truly need the leadership of our federal government and Senator Blumenthal to focus on the suppliers of these drugs. We all know there are merits to pain remediation but at the same time they’re highly addictive and they really take over people’s lives.”
According to Heavey, Greenwich’s last fatal overdose was in October 2017, after 17 overdoses and five fatals in 2016. He noted the recent gift by Greenwich Hospital, which equipped all Greenwich police cars with supplies of Narcan, a drug that counteracts overdose effects, and already has resulted in the saving of a life in town.
“This is an issue where we have to try everything whether it’s human services or EMS and police and first responders,” Heavey said, calling Narcan “another tool in our toolbox.”
Heavey also noted the receptacle in the lobby of the Greenwich Public Safety Complex where people can drop off drugs for safe disposal, 24 hours a day, no questions asked.
Friday’s press conference was also attended by Greenwich Fire Department Deputy Chief Thomas Zack, Greenwich Emergency Medical Services Director of Operations Patrick O’Connor, Superintendent of Schools Ralph Mayo and town Commissioner of Human Services Alan Barry.
Heavey and Barry co-chair the Greenwich Prevention Council. Next week, officials expect to release results of a survey of Greenwich students about the drug issue.
“We have to get more creative and smarter in what we’re doing in terms of developing strategies so we can truly have an impact,” Barry said.