HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) — For International Overdose Awareness Day on Monday, Connecticut state leaders raised awareness about opioid addiction and the recent increase in overdoses in Connecticut by unveiling a sculpture at the State Capitol honoring those who have died from an overdose.
According to the Chief State’s Medical Examiner, 1,200 people in Connecticut overdosed on drugs and died last year. Nearly 95% of those deaths involved opioids.
At the White House last week, First Lady Melania Trump announced a federal push to tackle opioid abuse.
In Hartford Monday, a number of families remembered the lives of their loved ones lost to an opioid overdose.
Sue Kruczek of Guilford lost her son, Nick, to an overdose.
“The magnitude of the loss is too hard,” she said. Nick was a star hockey player. Kruczek says half of her heart is now gone: “You look back over the years looking for clues…questioning every decision that you made and what you did and did not say.”
Families of those who have lost their lives to drug addiction say it is a disease. They say the COVID-19 pandemic is making the situation worse. They fear more people will turn to drugs leaving the potential for more overdoses as people try to cope with social isolation.
Dr. Miriam Delphina-Rittmon is the Commissioner of the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services. She explained, the pandemic has had an effect on overdose numbers: “From the middle of June there were 566 confirmed overdoses.” Delphina-Rittmon says deadly fentanyl was involved in more than 86% of cases.
State Senator George Logan, a Republican from Naugatuck added, “although we are in a pandemic with COVID-19, we have an epidemic going on here.”
“All of us are feeling more anxiety perhaps more of us are feeling depressed,” said State Rep. Sean Scanlon, a Democrat from Guilford, who has had family members struggle with the disease.
There’s a keyword here when it comes to overdoses: preventable. They are preventable.
Lawmakers are working to get life-saving overdose kits with NARCAN into the community.
Mark Jenkins from the Greater Hartford Harm Reduction Coalition held up NARCAN at the event in Hartford Monday: “This is a life preserver.”
Sadly, Dita Bhargava’s son, Alec, died before that help could be pumped into his body: “That person who sold the bag of heroin laced with fentanyl to my son…he or she who knew that it could possibly kill. That is involuntary murder.”
She wants safe injection facilities and community navigators. Both, advocates say, are proven harm reduction strategies for recovery.
Gov. Ned Lamont added, “With a little faith, a little hope, a little love, and a lot of attention and NARCAN we can make a difference.”
Monday, when Demand Zero, a group based in Madison, unveiled a statue called ‘Rising Unity’ – which includes the cherished signatures of all those who overdosed – a rainbow emerged over the State Capitol.
“This is for my beloved angel, Nick…may you rest..in paradise my beautiful angel. Mommy loves you,” said Kruczek.
On Friday, Governor Ned Lamont visited the Connecticut Community For Addiction in Hartford to address what is needed.
“We need you more than ever right now. Recovery coaches are like angels; the difference you make in people’s lives,” Gov. Lamont.
On Monday. Governor Lamont announced that he has signed a proclamation declaring Aug. 31 as Overdose Awareness Day in Connecticut.
The legislature had a dozen bills ready for debate surrounding how to tackle this public health crisis. Then the pandemic hit. But, all say they will revisit those ideas when the legislature returns to business.
Meantime, the statue unveiled Monday will be making a tour to city halls around the state.
The city of New Haven also marked Overdose Awareness Day Monday. An event was held on the New Haven Green. It included overdose education, substance use treatment information, health screenings, NARCAN, and COVID-19 testing.
Philip Costello of Greater New Haven Healthcare for the Homeless told News 8, “Opiate addiction has not sopped. It’s continuing even though we have COVD and it’s become harder to treat people. The resources have become much more complicated with COVID. Facilities had to reduce their bed counts.”
Costello says they try to do an event like this every year.
There are some events happening soon to raise overdose awareness, organized by Rushford, a Hartford HealthCare partner:
The panel discussion and virtual concert on Aug. 31 can be accessible on the Meriden Healthy Youth Coalition Facebook Page.
Observing International Overdose Awareness Day, a tribute to overdose victims, and a balloon release will take place at Brackett Park in Bristol from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Guests are asked to wear a mask.