NEW BRITAIN - The number of accidental drug overdose deaths in the state continues to increase along with the use of the opioid fentanyl, according to projections issued Monday by the Office of the Chief State Medical Examiner, and New Britain’s numbers reflect the statewide trend.
The figures indicate that 539 people have died of an accidental overdose from Jan. 1 to June 30 this year. The number is projected to increase to 1,078 - an 18 percent jump over 2016, when 917 people died.
Based on the projections, New Britain and Newington are on track to have sizeable increases in the number of residents who will die of a drug overdose this year.
Thirty-six New Britain residents died of drug overdoses in 2016. In the first six months of 2017, 25 have died, according to data released by Chief State Medical Examiner James Gill. The number is projected to rise to 50 by year’s end, according to Gill’s formula.
New Britain ranked fourth in the state last year for the number of residents dying from a drug overdose.
The six-month figures show the city behind only Hartford in the number of overdose deaths this year.
“We continuously take this very seriously,” New Britain Police Chief James Wardwell said. “We remain committed to doing all we can do to get this poison off our streets and save lives.”
In 2016, a New Britain investigation led to the largest seizure of fentanyl in state history. Nearly all the participants in the fentanyl trafficking ring have pleaded guilty and are facing time in federal prison.
New Britain police are proactive in combating illegal drugs in the city, do community outreach programs such as the prescription drop box in the lobby of the police station and officers are in constant contact with the New Britain State’s Attorney’s Office, Wardwell said. But he added that enforcement alone won’t solve the problem of opioid use.
“We’re doubling and tripling down on our efforts. But we recognize we can’t arrest our way out of it,” Wardwell said. “Treatment providers need to be properly funded and supported, as does the rest of the criminal justice system.”
Newington police are looking at a big jump in the number of fatal overdoses by year’s end, based on the first six months of 2017. In 2016, three Newington residents died from accidental drug overdoses. By June 30 of this year, 10 had already died. Most of the 10 involved some type of opioid, Police Chief Stephen Clark said.
“The number would have been higher, but we had 15 saves,” Clark said. “Our officers have used Narcan 15 times since Jan. 1. Clark said the entire state and nation are seeing an increase in drug use and drug overdoses.”
“It’s a complex issue,” Clark said. “There has to be prevention and treatment. You can focus on the people who are trafficking with enforcement but that’s not going to work for street-level users. They need treatment.”
Bristol, which was running neck and neck with New Britain in 2016, has seen a decrease in the past six months, from 35 in 2016 to 11 in the first six months of 2017.
Berlin had four fatal drug overdoses in the past six months, Plainville one, Southington six and Plymouth two. In each town, the number of fatal overdoses has either remained the same or decreased since last year.
One of the driving factors in the increase in overdose deaths is fentanyl, a drug 50 times more potent than heroin, Gill said. Of the 539 deaths in the state in the first six months of 2017, fentanyl has been identified as a factor in 322, he said.
At the same time, the number of deaths attributed to heroin is leveling off, with 514 projected for 2017 compared to 508 in 2016. The number of deaths from Oxycodone is expected to decrease, from 110 in 2016 to 82 in 2017.
Lisa Backus can be reached at 860-801-5066 or firstname.lastname@example.org.