Action team to host Overdose Awareness Day event, meet with lawmakers
New London — The Opioid Action Team of Southeastern Connecticut, again hosting an Overdose Awareness Day event at Williams Park on Friday, will meet lawmakers and social services leaders beforehand to discuss how to continue addressing addiction in the region.
For the third year, representatives from hospitals, treatment centers, nonprofits and the city will be at the park distributing overdose-reversing naloxone kits and discussing available services from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Organizers also will set up a memorial to those who have died by overdose.
“This is a meaningful way to honor lives lost from overdose as well as to educate our community on how to prevent more deaths from occurring,” said Carol Jones, director of medical case management for Alliance for Living, a cosponsor of the event.
Jennifer Muggeo, supervisor of administration, finance and special projects for Ledge Light Health District, said the action team will present an update and offer suggestions during a closed breakfast at Alliance for Living earlier Friday.
Local and state politicians, staffers from the offices of U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney and U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, local treatment and health care providers and the state Department of Public Health were expected to attend.
Muggeo said the action team’s focus going forward is twofold: to increase on-demand access to medication-assisted treatment — or the practice of combining therapy with medications that prevent intense withdrawals and cravings — and to reduce how long people must wait to see prescribers of those medications.
“There’s all sorts of resistance that exists in terms of whether people are going to adhere to the medication and the idea of diversion,” Muggeo said.
Two of the medications — methadone and Suboxone — are opioids that can be sold on the street.
“The reality is these are medications that can help people manage, reduce or stop their use of opioids,” she said.
Locally, the team is encouraging more clinicians to get a waiver to prescribe Suboxone, which requires them to complete an educational course. The team also may lobby against the federal waiver requirement, which doesn’t exist for methadone or the opioid pain medications frequently blamed for the skyrocketing number of overdose deaths in the United States.
The Centers for Disease Control estimates 72,287 people died by overdose last year. State statistics show 1,038 of those deaths happened in Connecticut.
Muggeo said it would be ideal for primary care physicians to prescribe Suboxone, which is the newest of the three drugs commonly used in medication-assisted treatment.
“Receiving care from somebody you have a relationship with who knows and understands your health history — that’s important,” she said.
She said some doctors are uncomfortable with that idea and believe those struggling with addiction should see specialists. But people struggling with addiction — a chronic, relapsing brain disease — struggle to different degrees, she said.
Muggeo likened it to her own asthma. For years, her primary care doctor has prescribed her inhaler and overseen her condition. Should it worsen, however, her doctor could refer her to a pulmonologist.
Muggeo said the team is hosting a forum in September so current Suboxone prescribers can explain their experiences to other clinicians in the region.
Lawrence + Memorial Hospital also is considering launching a Suboxone program, Muggeo said, given how many overdoses its emergency department sees.
The state Department of Public Health said New London County saw about 60 overdose visits per month this spring, split between L+M and the William W. Backus Hospital. More recent data was not available.
The action team has been meeting since January 2017 and in December that year got a $135,000 federal grant to help its efforts. With the grant set to expire Nov. 30, Muggeo said the group is seeking funding to continue and even expand its work.
“There’s a continued need for a new conversation about this,” Muggeo said of opioid addiction. “We have more people saying, ‘Yes, this is a disease,’ but we haven’t gone 100 percent to responding to it as one.”