The Opioid Crisis

In small towns and big cities, rural areas and suburbs, the number of people abusing pain pills and turning to heroin has grown to unprecedented heights. The resulting losses in relationships, money and lives have been tragic — hitting families at every income level and across all racial and ethnic backgrounds.

A National Public Health Emergency in Connecticut

In small towns and big cities, rural areas and suburbs, the number of people abusing pain pills and turning to heroin has grown to unprecedented heights. The resulting losses in relationships, money and lives have been tragic — hitting families at every income level and across all racial and ethnic backgrounds.

The Numbers

  • Drug deaths in Connecticut in 2012: 3571; in 2017: 1,0382
  • Of those 1,038 deaths in 2017, 677 involved fentanyl (a synthetic opioid drug 30 to 50 times more powerful than heroin)3
  • Connecticut's rank among all states in opioid overdose death rates: 9th4
  • Overdose death rates have doubled for all racial groups in Connecticut5
  • Age range for opioid deaths from 2012 to 2017: ages 14- 856
  • The U.S. economy loses an estimated $40 billion annually in lost wages and productivity resulting from death, incarceration and decreased productivity, and an estimated $16 billion in federal, state and local taxes.7
  • Opioid prescriptions per 100 people in the U.S. in 2012: 81; in 2017: 598

A Brief History of the Epidemic

More than 115 people are dying every day in the U.S. from opioid overdoses,9 amounting to what the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is declaring a national public health emergency.

The current epidemic has its roots in the 1990s, when a radical shift in the medical treatment of pain reversed decades of caution around opioid prescriptions. Once reserved for the most extreme cases of pain and administered only in controlled settings, opioid prescriptions became an accepted form of treatment for routine chronic pain. Pharmaceutical companies began marketing opioids such as OxyContin® as having a low risk of addiction, and prescription rates soared.

As detailed by Sam Quinones in Dreamland: The True Tale of America's Opiate Epidemic, by 2003 more than half of the prescribers nationwide were primary care doctors, who had little pain-management training. As oxy prescriptions for chronic pain rose from 670,000 in 1997 to 6.2 million in 2002, rates of prescription abuse skyrocketed. In the same period, new supplies of inexpensive and potent heroin started flooding small towns and cities around the country and soon became a drug of choice for many who were first addicted to pain pills.

While pharmaceutical companies have since revised their claims to highlight the risks of opioid abuse, and prescribers are under increased scrutiny by the Drug Enforcement Agency, an even more deadly chapter in the opioid crisis has taken hold in the last five years. Powerful synthetic opioids such as fentanyl are increasingly being mixed into batches of heroin, raising dealer profits and the risks of overdoses.

The epidemic has left no community unscathed. White residents are dying in greater numbers in Connecticut and much of the country, and death rates among Black and Hispanic populations are also soaring.10 Geographically, the most troubling increases are in the urban periphery towns of Connecticut, such as West Haven.11

Harm reduction through medication treatment

Opioids create a physical dependency that results in debilitating withdrawal symptoms, which is a leading factor in why so few people are able to stop using. About eight out of ten opiate abusers who go through non-medication-based psychosocial therapy return to using. Extensive research has shown that when in a maintenance treatment program using either methadone or buprenorphine, patients reduce their illicit opioid use, are relieved of their cravings, and greatly improve their ability to function.12


According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, opioids are a class of drugs that include the illegal drug heroin, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, and pain relievers available legally by prescription, such as oxycodone (OxyContin®), hydrocodone (Vicodin®), codeine, morphine and many others.

What is being done in Connecticut

  • The Good Samaritan Law, passed in 2011, encourages people to call 911 for overdose emergencies by protecting all who call from being arrested for drug possession.
  • The Narcan® Law, passed in 2012, allows providers to prescribe, dispense or administer the drug Narcan® to any person to prevent or treat a drug overdose, while the prescriber is protected from civil liability and criminal prosecution.
  • The Change the Script awareness campaign by the state is increasing awareness of the dangers of prescription drug misuse.
  • The state is using a $5.5 million federal grant to invest in treatment and prevention programs.

What The Community Foundation is Doing

Health and Wellness is The Foundation's largest area of grantmaking. Recent grants to organizations providing behavioral health and substance abuse treatment in the region include:

  • BHcare, which offers a Medication Assisted Treatment program at clinics in Ansonia and Branford.
  • Bridges- A Community Support System, which provides a comprehensive range of prevention and addiction recovery programs for adults, children and families. In 2017 Bridges began offering Medication Assisted Treatment for individuals with opioid use disorder.
  • Connecticut Healthcare Research and Education Foundation, Inc., for the implementation of an education and training program that informs hospitals, community-based practices and patients about strategies to avoid and address opioid misuse.
  • Connection, Inc., for programmatic and physical building needs where behavioral health programs serve individuals diagnosed with psychiatric and/or substance use disorders.
  • Continuum of Care, Inc., to help individuals who are struggling with addiction live productive lives.
  • Fair Haven Community Health Clinic, which offers an opioid addiction treatment program that is accessible to low-income residents.

The Foundation is also home to several preference funds established to address addiction recovery. The Ashleigh Ann Rector Memorial Scholarship Fund provides scholarship funds Hamden High School graduates pursuing a career addiction counseling and the Peter J. Meehan and Prudence F. Meehan Fund is a supporter of treatment therapy.

Works Cited

  1. "Opioid Overdose." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. December 19, 2017. Accessed October 24, 2018.
  2. Ibid
  3. Kara, Jake, and Mackenzie Rigg. "Fentanyl Continues to Drive Deadly Overdose Epidemic." The CT Mirror. March 03, 2018. Accessed October 24, 2018.
  4. "Opioid Overdose Death Rates and All Drug Overdose Death Rates per 100,000 Population (Age-Adjusted)." The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. January 31, 2018. Accessed October 24, 2018.
  5. Ankrah, Josephine. "Connecticut's Opioid Epidemic: A Glimpse of the Last Five Years." CT Viewpoints. September 02, 2018. Accessed October 24, 2018.
  6. Ibid
  7. Sutherland, Douglas. "The Severe Economic Costs of the US Opioid Crisis." The Hill. June 14, 2018. Accessed October 25, 2018.
  8. "Opioid Overdose." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. October 03, 2018. Accessed October 24, 2018. Institute on Drug Abuse
  9. National Institute on Drug Abuse. "Overdose Death Rates." NIDA. August 09, 2018. Accessed October 24, 2018.
  10. Ankrah
  11. Ibid
  12. Bart, Gavin. Journal of Addictive Diseases. July 2012. Accessed October 24, 2018.