State getting nearly $17 million to fight opioid crisis

September 19, 2018

Connecticut is getting nearly $17 million in federal grant money to help combat the state’s opioid crisis. The money will not only help increase access to medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorder, it will also allow multiple community health centers in the state to expand their services.

That includes Bridgeport-based Optimus Health Care, Inc., which will receive $285,000 in grant money. That infusion of funding will be used to help pay for a full-time clinician and other improvements, said Optimus CEO Ludwig Spinelli. The money is much needed, Spinelli said, because the opioid crisis is such a pervasive problem, both statewide and nationwide.

“This crisis affects people from all walks of life and all economic classes,” he said. “There is a great need and a demand. And it’s very difficult to hire (the necessary staff), so we hope the federal money will allow us to do this.”

Connecticut’s grant funding was part of more than $1 billion awarded nationwide by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The Nutmeg State’s piece of the pie totaled $16,930,131 — $11,129,713 from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration and $5,800,418 from the Health Resources and Services Administration.

The SAMHSA money will help increase access to medication-assisted treatment using the three medications for the treatment of opioid use disorder.

Meanwhile, the HRSA money is what Optimus is getting a chunk of to expand its services. Other organizations getting a share of the grant funding include the University of Connecticut, which will receive $400,000. Connecticut Institute For Communities, Inc. in Danbury; Family Centers, Inc., in Greenwich; Southwest Community Health Center in Bridgeport and Norwalk Community Health Center are among the others getting funding. Cornell Scott-Hill Health Corporation and Fair Haven Community Health Clinic, both in New Haven, will receive grant money as well.

Drug intoxication deaths in Connecticut have been on the rise for several years — climbing from 357 in 2012 to 1,038 in 2017, according to the state Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. In 2018, there were 515 between January in June, which, the state reported, puts Connecticut on track to have 1,030 drug overdose deaths by the end of the year.

But there may be positive news on the horizon. Last week, SAMHSA unveiled the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, which found that the number of Americans initiating heroin use dropped by about half from 2016 to 2017. The number of Americans misusing opioids also dropped for the second year in a row, the report showed.

Federal data also showed that, between January 2017 through August 2018, the amount of opioids prescribed in America has dropped by 21 percent. In the same time, the number of prescriptions filled for naloxone — which is used to treat opioid overdoses — has increased 264 percent. Meanwhile, the number of prescriptions for buprenorphine — one form of medication-assisted treatment for opioid overdose, has risen 16 percent, the federal government reports.

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