“Okay, Houston, we’ve had a problem here” was the message from Astronaut Jack Swigert aboard Apollo 13 relayed to Houston Control after the rupture of an oxygen tank in the spacecraft’s service module. The equipment failure resulted in the mission to the moon being aborted and the real possibility of the loss of Apollo 13 with its crew of three.
In the movie “Apollo 13” and written accounts, the key to success in rescuing the spacecraft and crew was data. The data was collected and calculated with a minimal margin for error. Engineers in Houston glumly predicted a 3 in 10 chance of success in returning Apollo 13 to Earth.
Across the nation and here in Connecticut, we too have a devastating problem…addiction. Addiction is destroying lives, families and on the more practical side, absorbing precious dollars from local, state and federal budgets. Dollars that are often spent chasing addiction. Not dissimilar to an addict chasing his/ her fix we continue to chase the results of addiction instead of getting in front of the problem proactively.
Essential to managing the scourge of addiction is the collection and dissemination of all data. We need the data to be accurate and timely.
Currently, the legislature is considering Raised Bill 511. The bill is supported and proposed by the Connecticut Association of Directors of Health (CADH). A key component of 511 is to require for the creation of a statewide database regarding overdoses that do not result in death.
CADH’s testimony states, “In 2017, the Medical Examiner reported 1039 overdose deaths in Connecticut.” That is more than can be attributed to homicide and motor vehicle accidents combined.
Critical in fighting the scourge of addiction is getting the right data promptly to make essential decisions on how to prevent our citizens sliding into addiction and more accurately identifying where the overdoses are so that proper intervention and treatment can be targeted.
In testimony supporting Raised Bill 511, Director of Public Health for the Town of Darien, David Knauf stated “There is no statewide database currently available regrading overdoses that do not result in death. The State Medical Examiner reports how many people died and where they died, but there is no existing method for tracking the number of individuals who overdosed and survived.”
Connecticut General Statutes states, “The list of reportable diseases has two parts: (A) reportable diseases; and (B) reportable emergency illnesses and conditions.
Director Knauf’s testimony stated, “While conditions such as carbon monoxide poisoning, food-related poisoning, and lead poisoning are currently mandated as ‘reportable’ by DPH, overdoses which should be considered cases of ‘acute poising’ are not on the list,”.
It seems incongruous that the state would collect information on the consumption of rancid meat but not have a state-wide collection of non-lethal drug overdoses.
Too often we are making assumptions about where addiction and overdoses are occurring.
A Connecticut Post article on March 24, 2018, “Totals don’t tell the full story of drug overdoses,” reported that the Connecticut Medical Examiner yearly report on fatal overdose victims “confirmed common speculation that more fatal overdoses occur in state’s bigger cities.”
Professor of Criminal Justice at the University of New Haven John DeCarlo stated in the Post article that when overdose data from 2017 were plugged into an algorithm commonly used in crime analysis, the rate of fatal overdoses per 100k people in Derby came in at 60.46, while Bridgeport was 51.39. In Fairfield, while OD data shows only 6.73 deaths per 100k, police report responding to the equivalent of one overdose every other day. Thankfully, many overdoses do not result in death, largely due to the availability and use by first responders of the opioid-blocker naloxone.
Passage of Raised Bill 511 will acknowledge that overdoses are the number one public health crisis of our time in Connecticut and that we require timely and accurate data to assist us in our collaborative efforts regarding prevention and treatment.
The establishment of a state-wide system to collect, process and analyze overdoses will allow for the more efficient use of state resources, the development of targeted treatment programs and perhaps reduce the heartbreak and loss that so many of our Connecticut families are experiencing.
First Selectman Jayme Stevenson is currently serving her fourth term as Darien’s leader. She is currently running for lieutenant governor.