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Federal Money Will Be Used To Track Opioid Overdoses

Connecticut will receive $315,000 in federal funds to better track opioid overdoses and share data in a multistate effort to combat what has become a national epidemic.

Connecticut was one of 20 states and the District of Columbia to receive a combined $7.5 million in funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Enhanced State Surveillance of Opioid-Involved Morbidity and Mortality program.

The program has distributed nearly $20 million to 32 states and the District of Columbia since the fall as part of a sweeping package aimed at assembling a portrait of the opioid epidemic.

Some of the funds will go to the chief medical examiner's office, which keeps detailed records of overdose deaths, said chief medical examiner Dr. James Gill. Gill's office will begin submitting data to the National Violent Death Reporting System next year, a CDC database that tracks homicides, suicides and — beginning next year — fatal drug overdoses. He plans to use the new funds to hire an extra statistician.

Currently, Gill's office waits until the end of the year to release data on drug overdoses. But the CDC database will be updated monthly, Gill said, allowing health officials and policymakers to keep abreast of the data.

"By going directly to the source, the CDC can get quality statistics and quality data," he said.

That data can help officials pinpoint demographics that are suffering or drugs that are being used, he said, like a shift from pharmaceutical drugs to illicit ones.

An interstate database can also help track doctor shopping, said Christopher Stan, a spokesman for the Connecticut Department of Public Health, in which drug users hop from state to state to find doctors quick to prescribe opioid painkillers.

The CDC funding was applauded by federal lawmakers whose constituencies have been hammered by opioids, and in particular synthetic opioids like fentanyl.

"The opioid epidemic is something that needs to be addressed head on. This grant is just one step among many that Connecticut has taken toward combating this epidemic," said Rep. John Larson, D-1st District. "I will continue to fight for more funding for prevention methods and treatment and resist all efforts to turn the clock back on the progress that we've made."

Ninety-three percent of Connecticut's 917 fatal overdoses last year involved opioids, Gill said at a summit this month.

And in 2017, "the numbers certainly aren't going down," he said.

A report released in March from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, a branch of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, ranked Connecticut fifth in opioid-related emergency department visits out of 30 states providing data, with 254.6 visits per 100,000 population.

The CDC grant is not the first time Connecticut has received federal money to combat opioid abuse. In June, the state received $3.1 million from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, a federal agency, to expand long-term treatment for young people struggling with addiction. In April, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services gave Connecticut $5.5 million to increase access to substance abuse treatment.

Copyright © 2017, CT Now
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