The opioid epidemic continues to wreak havoc on communities across the United States, and Connecticut is no exception. However, there seems a flash of hope now as millions of dollars have been allocated to the state to combat this devastating crisis.
Attorney General William Tong told an audience of first responders, local officials and advocates on Tuesday that Connecticut will be receiving a substantial financial boost of $26 million from a settlement with drug distributors, with the funding expected to continue for the next 18 years. In addition to this, the state expects to receive $95 million from a settlement with Purdue Pharma, the makers of OxyContin, a widely prescribed opioid pain medication.
The inflow of funds is undoubtedly a step in the right direction. However, the crucial question that arises is how this money will be effectively utilized. With little guidance from the state on allocation, concerns have been raised about the optimal utilization of these resources.
A.G. Tong, during a conversation at the Glastonbury office of Amplify, a nonprofit provider of behavioral health services, said, “DMHAS does a great job, but there’s no overarching state infrastructure, right, machine for treatment, prevention, addiction science.”
It is apparent that Connecticut needs a comprehensive and cohesive strategy to address the opioid crisis from various angles – treatment, prevention, and addiction science. The responsibility for determining the best course of action falls on the Opioid Settlement Advisory Committee (OSAC), a board comprising municipal leaders and political appointees responsible for reviewing applications and deciding the distribution of the state’s share from the settlements.
The challenge of allocation
The creation of OSAC, while providing an avenue for experts to contribute insights on fund utilization, has raised concerns about the competitive nature of the allocation process. Most importantly, municipalities and nonprofit organizations need to be well-informed about accessing the funds and how to submit effective applications. The process cannot be a mere “first come, first serve” basis, as it might sideline some deserving projects that could play a significant role in the fight against opioid addiction.
Furthermore, the allocation structure itself poses both challenges and opportunities. The 15% direct allocation to municipalities and the state aims to ensure their commitment to the settlement. However, the remaining 70% distributed by OSAC is allocated for so-called “abatement” efforts focused on treatment, prevention, and addiction sciences. This approach aims to learn from past criticisms of how the state handled funds from a tobacco industry settlement and establishes a trial run for future settlements. It emphasizes the need for innovative and forward-looking initiatives rather than treating the funds solely as a means of recovering past expenses.
Advocacy for support groups and compensation
One of the urgent concerns expressed by attendees is the question of compensation for victims’ families. John Lally, co-founder and President of Today I Matter, represents families that have lost loved ones to opioid addiction.
“A lot of families have felt that if it wasn’t for families that lost someone fighting this from Day One, we would never be where we are today,” Lally said.
While OSAC could potentially allocate funds for support groups, direct compensation for victims’ families presents logistical challenges due to the vast number of victims. However, Lally’s advocacy reminds us of the importance of addressing the human toll of the opioid crisis and the need for compassionate support mechanisms.
The importance of collaboration and education
The success of Connecticut’s fight against opioids hinges on effective collaboration among various stakeholders. Municipal leaders, addiction care experts, individuals in recovery, and family members of those who lost their lives to addiction are all part of OSAC, underscoring the significance of diverse perspectives in decision-making.
Collaboration extends to education as well. Attendees emphasized the need for age-appropriate education to raise awareness about the dangers of opioids. Additionally, providing adequate support and resources to families affected by addiction can make a crucial difference.
“A lot of families have felt that if it wasn’t for families that lost someone fighting this from Day One, we would never be where we are today,” Lally added.
Connecticut’s financial boost in its opioid fight presents both opportunities and challenges. With OSAC at the helm of the allocation process, it is imperative that the state fosters an environment of transparency, collaboration, and innovation. By supporting evidence-based treatments, prevention efforts, and addiction science, Connecticut can take significant strides in curbing the opioid crisis.
Moreover, attention must be paid to the human aspect of this crisis, as families affected by addiction seek support and understanding. As the state moves forward with its allocation decisions, it must remember that a united, comprehensive approach is the key to winning the battle against opioids and building a healthier, safer community for all.
The severity of the opioid crisis in the United States
The opioid crisis in the United States has led to a staggering number of preventable deaths, with opioids being the leading cause of fatal overdoses in the country. Between 2000 and 2021, over a million people lost their lives to drug overdoses, with opioid-involved overdose deaths rising from 21,089 in 2010 to a concerning 80,411 in 2021.
More than 1,500 people per week die from taking some type of opioid, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, making opioids by far the leading cause of fatal overdoses in the country.
The crisis has disproportionately affected males, with seven out of ten preventable opioid overdose death victims being male. However, since 1999, female opioid overdose deaths have increased at a faster pace than males.
The prevalence of opioid use disorder (OUD) in the US has remained relatively stable or decreased from 2016 to 2019, but the burden of the disease remains high, estimated to affect approximately 6.7 million to 7.6 million people. Fentanyl and other synthetic opioids have been major contributors to the crisis, with an increasing supply from Mexico.
The COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated the situation, resulting in reported spikes in overdose deaths nationwide. Addressing this opioid crisis requires a comprehensive and urgent response from authorities and communities alike.