NEW BRITAIN - Mayor Erin Stewart and a team of service providers, emergency responders and city department heads hope to reduce opioid deaths in the city by 50 percent over the next three years.
The City of New Britain Opioid Task Force, met for the first time Wednesday to discuss goals and action plans.
“This is long overdue,” Stewart said. “There are so many different issues that are happening in different silos. This is an organizational meeting so we can ask, ‘Where do we go from here?’ I’m not expecting to answer all the questions we have today.”
Stewart also announced that the city will be appealing a ruling by a Superior Court judge that tossed out the city’s lawsuit against drug companies that produce opioids. The city says the companies used false claims to lure people into thinking opioids are less addictive than they actually are.
The judge threw out several lawsuits filed by municipalities around the state, saying that the cities have no standing to sue to recover money spent on police and emergency responders dealing with overdoses and other behavior related to addiction.
The city was also recently awarded a $5,000 federal grant, administered by the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, to provide opioid prevention programs.
Like many cities across the state, New Britain has been combating increased opioid use and dealing with hundreds of overdoses. In 2017, 36 residents died of accidental overdoses. From Jan. 1 to June 30, 2018, 25 people died. The city has repeatedly been in the top five in the state in fatal overdoses.
In 2017, 1,038 people died statewide of accidental overdoses. State Chief Medical Examiner James Gill estimated that, based on the number of autopsies his department did last year, the number of overdose deaths for 2018 will remain about the same.
There still aren’t enough treatment beds available, said Ramona Anderson, a program manager with the state Department of Public Health who spoke at the task force meeting.
The number of opioid prescriptions issued statewide is down, Anderson said. But in one 18-month period there were more than 3 million opioid prescriptions issued by doctors in Connecticut alone.
“This is actually a reduction in prescriptions,” Anderson said. At the same time, the harder the state comes down on doctors for prescribing opioids, the more people turn to illegal opioids such as heroin, Anderson said.
For every opioid death, officials estimate there are four or five overdoses, Anderson said.
“Hartford County had the second highest rate of suspected opioid overdose emergency department visits, Anderson said.
Stewart is hoping to pattern the city’s task force on Waterbury’s, which made it a goal to reduce overdose deaths by 30 percent in three years. It will take prevention measures and the city’s service providers, police, EMS and other city departments working together to find ways to get people help, the mayor said.
She is hoping to create a memorandum of understanding among several key players including police, EMS and service providers to share data and common goals.
“Our goal is to reduce overdose deaths by half in three years. This group better be pretty damn strong if we are going to do this,” Stewart said.
Lisa Backus can be reached at 860-801-5066 or Lbackus@centralctcommunications.com.