Get to know... David Knauf
DARIEN — David Knauf, the town’s director of health, is concerned about the recent rise in overdose deaths and opioid addiction in Connecticut.
Actually, you might even say Knauf is alarmed. And with good reason.
According to data recently released by the state Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, overdose deaths are projected to reach 832 in 2016, an increase of 103 over 2015. The chief medical examiner’s report is based on 208 accidental overdoses in the first quarter of 2016 alone, more than half of which involved heroin and an increasing number of which involve the super-potent synthetic opioid, fentanyl.
Addiction to opioids such as heroin or fentanyl is often preceded by addiction to pain killers such as Oxycontin or Percocet. In Darien, Knauf is working with First Selectman Jayme Stevenson and the Police Department to help keep potential abusers out of harm’s way — primarily young adult men — and to spread awareness.
Knauf sat down for an interview on a recent Friday to discuss the severity of the issue in Darien. He also talked about how the town is working to combat the effects of heroin and other opioids, and how parents can keep their children and loved ones off drugs.
Q: Where did this opioid problem come from?
Prescriptions for pain medications went up, up, up, and all of a sudden people started realizing there’s a market for these drugs. People started using opioids illegally, and going drug shopping between doctors. So there was this out of control use of pain pills.
As a result, the government started tightening down on prescribed opioids. I think last year was the first year we’ve seen a decline in these prescribed pain killers. And then heroin use started rising because as these pills became more expensive and less available, people became desperate and made the switch.
There are people that really need the assistance of pain medication. But people die from this stuff, and not everybody can just stop taking an addictive drug. The other dangerous part about the opioid epidemic is that they were initially promoted as not addictive. Well, time has shown that that was wrong.
I get some information from the police department because they’re doing a lot of the response, or from Post 53. So that information doesn’t come to me directly. But, anecdotally, I can tell you that there’s never a discussion with the police department in which that issue doesn’t come up.
We also don’t have direct access to admission data for hospitals. But people who often go to the hospital can have an overdose and maybe fall, or have other injuries. So the reason for going into the hospital may have multiple codings and it may be difficult to tease out how many people are actually going in as a result of an overdose.
I’m involved in a Stamford task force called the Communities for Action Group. We’re getting ourselves involved in planning and reacting. Right now, our focus is going to be on getting regular information out.
It’s dangerous. People are used to doing a certain amount of heroin and then you get this stuff, which is like a super high-test. You can take the same amount of fentanyl that you would heroin and it can kill you. And it’s not like it’s something that comes labeled.
The other thing we need to pay attention to are sports injuries. They have been the origin of a lot of subsequent abuse. And parents may not even realize that all of a sudden, a kid gets hurt on the field, gets a prescription because his knee or his back hurts, the prescription ends and then they move on to something else. They start to get stuff from their friends or they find a different communication network to obtain drugs.
Certain things take on a measure of importance. Somehow, we need to increase the level of importance surrounding this issue so that people become more aware of the fact that it’s not just a New York City problem, or a problem in Bridgeport, or a problem in Stamford. It’s a problem here at home. It has no boundaries.