There's an epidemic of drug overdoses sweeping Connecticut. The epidemic is spreading to the suburbs and rural towns. It's killing more people than car accidents.
It's maddening that the state isn't acting with more urgency to stop it.
An antidote exists — Narcan — that is safe and easy to use. It should be sold in pharmacies to anyone who asks for it, routinely prescribed by doctors along with painkillers, carried in every police cruiser and firetruck, and in the bag of every emergency medical technician.
Deaths Are Rising
In Connecticut, 490 people needlessly died of overdoses last year, virtually all from opioids such as OxyContin and heroin. Compare that to 264 deaths in car accidents in 2012, the latest year for which the state has statistics.
Opioids are increasingly a suburban habit. Heroin deaths, for example, nearly tripled in Litchfield County from 2012 to 2013. And heroin — involved in 58 percent of total overdose deaths last year — is increasingly an older, whiter, more female habit.
In the 1960s, the typical American heroin user was 16 years old and male, according to JAMA Psychiatry. Today, the user is 23 and as likely to be female as male. Nearly 90 percent of recent heroin users are white. Three-quarters of them started with prescription drugs.
Narcan works immediately to revive a person who has overdosed on any opioid, whether Vicodin or heroin. It was approved in April by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration after just 15 weeks.
It can be given by nasal spray or simple injection, and training takes less than 10 minutes. A spray kit is $42 and has a two-year shelf life. It's covered by Medicaid, Husky C and many other insurance plans. It has no street value nor any potential for abuse, and it's not addictive. It has no effect on someone who hasn't taken opioids.
If Police Won't Carry It ...
Connecticut has been moving like molasses while its neighbors work urgently get Narcan to those who need it.
In Rhode Island, Health Director Michael Fine led his department in figuring out a way to make Narcan available without a prescription at Walgreens and other pharmacies in the state.
Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick declared overdoses a public health emergency in March. He ordered the state Department of Public Health to make Narcan immediately available to all first responders and accessible to families and friends of drug abusers.
New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced a push in April to have state and local police carry Narcan.
There is resistance in Connecticut, however, to adding Narcan to first-responders' live-saving equipment — even though the Office of National Drug Control Policy is urging it.
Agencies say they're studying it. Yet none of them are doing it. No one, including the governor's office, is giving the order.
... Let Loved Ones Have It
If the state won't let emergency medical technicians carry Narcan, then let the friends and families of opioid users have it. Indeed, anyone should be allowed to buy it without a prescription. Pharmacists should offer it with the pain-pill scripts they fill.
If the street is overflowing with deadly opioids, then let it be flooded with Narcan as well. And the street is overflowing. Yale's School of Public Health found that only 22 of Connecticut's 169 towns didn't report an overdose death between 1998 and 2009.
It's an unpleasant experience to be brought back from death's door with Narcan. It wouldn't encourage more opioid use, experts say. But it would give addicts a chance at treatment and salvation.
Until Connecticut can get a grasp on an epidemic that's spreading faster than the state can handle, that is the humane thing to do.