According to the latest data from the Connecticut Medical Examiner’s office, 2021 opioid deaths rose 11% over 2020, marking the third year in a row of increases. Opioid deaths have increased in 8 of the last 9 years in the state. Fentanyl deaths have increased every year, with Fentanyl deaths representing 93% of all opioid deaths in the state in 2021. No end in sight.
People will continue to die as long as illicit fentanyl remains predominate in the state’s drug supply. Because Fentanyl is so powerful and is so difficult for illicit dealers to mix evenly, users are not dying from traditional overdose (taking more doses than normal), they are being poisoned. They are unable to reliably determine how much active ingredient is in each dose (bag). When people use Fentanyl alone and they get a get a disproportionate amount of active ingredient in their standard dose, they suffer respiratory arrest and die if they are not quickly found.
To prevent Fentanyl deaths it is time to take the following steps:
1. End the war on drugs and the war on people who use drugs. Reallocate funding to harm reduction, and medical treatment.
2. Recognize addiction as a public health issue and treat it accordingly. Educate and fight stigma.
3. Create a safe supply alternative by legalizing possession of small amounts of opioids and authorizing the production and regulation of pharmaceutical grade heroin and/or fentanyl for users enrolled in public health programs.
4. Establish safe injection sites where users can use under watch of a trained worker with naloxone at hand and ability to refer patient to treatment and advise of safe use practices and access to social services.
5. Create and support safe use alone applications to allow monitoring and rescue of patients who overdose when using alone.
6. Lower the cost of naloxone and make it available without prescription.
If we are serious about stopping the deaths, we need to change our failed approaches of the past. Act now! Organize! Collaborate! Speak out! Represent!