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05/17/2022 03:29 PM

State Opioid Bill Anticipated to Bring Local Relief

Local social services providers and substance abuse prevention advocates are hailing the unanimously passage of HB 5430, An Act Concerning Opioids, in the state legislature. As the bill heads to Governor Ned Lamont to be signed into law, some are also calling for more measures to help combat the state’s opioid addiction crisis.

According to local officials, this bill codifies a number of critical policies to combat the opioid epidemic in the state, including the expansion of evidence-based treatments and harm reduction measures. Other provisions of the bill include measures to enable and expand mobile access to methadone (a medication used to treat individuals with substance use disorder), to legalize fentanyl testing strips in order to prevent accidental overdose, and to expand other harm reduction measures.

According to state legislators, the bill also seeks to implement a “peer navigator” pilot program in urban, suburban, and rural communities across the state to serve people living with opioid use disorder and to codify the term “substance use disorder” in lieu of “substance abuse” in an effort to reduce stigma.

Madison Youth & Family Services (MYFS) Director Scott Cochran and Assistant Director of Community Support Catherine Barden praised the bill in a press release supplied by Madison’s state legislators.

“MYFS is incredibly thankful for the work that the legislature has put into addressing the opioid epidemic. Unfortunately, we have seen the overdose rates climb year after year. We must all work to restrict access, reduce risk, and support those suffering from substance use disorders,” the statements reads.

“We look forward to continuing to educate the community about the risks, encourage safe disposal of unused medications, encourage safe storage of medications, host Narcan trainings, and more to ensure we continue to be a part of the solution because we recognize we are all in this together,” the statement continues. “We also must recognize our collective societal mistake as we ignored the warning signs and then responded so slowly to this epidemic. We hope these are lessons learned as the state learns to manage the new industries for legalized cannabis and gambling.”

Lisa Deane, founder of demandZERO and a former The Source Person of the Week, lost her son Joe to a fentanyl poisoning in 2018, was one of many community members involved in the creation and passage of this legislation.

“We are grateful the bill passed the house unanimously,” Deane said. “However, it’s a bittersweet win. [State] Representative [Michael] Parker [D-101] did all he could possibly do, and we are so appreciative. But our work is far from over. The fentanyl crisis is much too dire of a situation. I believe we need a chief drug policy and control officer here in the state and will continue to advocate for this position in the future.”

Deane added that despite the progress more still needs to be undertaken to prevent deaths, as the number for 2022 has already surpassed last year’s total by this date.

“What John-Michael brought to the table is very much appreciated. The efforts of the representatives and senators was great to see, but there is a lot more work to do,” Deane told The Source. “We know that if we tried to get everything in, the bill would’ve probably died, but it can be disheartening in how long things take. It’s a bittersweet win; we asked for several extremely important life-saving measures that didn’t make it into the final bill.

“This is a start and the conversation I happening and we are grateful for that. But we to keep at it. We need to scream this from the rooftops,” she continued. “There is still a long way to go. We need to save these lives. The work ahead is enormous and that’s why we need to start immediately.”

Parker, a member of the Public Health Committee that sponsored HB 5430, said that there are several more bills including HB 5044, which creates an Opioid Settlement Advisory Committee that will direct unprecedented levels of funding to “substance use disorder abatement infrastructure, programs, services, support and resources for prevention, treatment, recovery, and harm reduction” that will be on the agenda.

Parker said HB 5430 is just one step in combating the staggering number of fatal overdoses and poisonings associated with opioid use.

“While we have responded to and fought back against the COVID-19 pandemic over the past few years, we’ve continued to struggle with—and, frankly, lose ground to—the opioid epidemic,” said Parker in the release. “The cost of this crisis is staggering, and we cannot continue on this path of rising deaths, bereft families, and torn apart communities. Though there is much more work to be done in the years ahead, this bipartisan bill takes the right next steps and will save lives here in our state.”

State Senator Christine Cohen (D-12) lauded Parker’s work on the measure and said the bill will save lives.

“While we have a long way to go on combating the opioid crisis, I am incredibly proud of the progress evidenced in House Bill 5430,” said Cohen in the release. “By way of a collaborative process, we were able to ensure better access to care for behavioral health and substance use disorders and plan for ways to address the serious public health impacts of addiction in a meaningful way. We need to be hyper-focused on this important issue and not continue to allow any further loss of life. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw a significant uptick in mental health and addiction needs, and it is incumbent upon us to take immediate action. I am grateful for my colleague, Representative Parker, and for advocates like Demand Zero and For Cameron, who have worked tirelessly to bring us together and realize change.”

Both Cohen and Parker are seeking re-election in November.

According to state-supplied statistics, the number of lives lost to unintentional drug overdoses in Connecticut has continued to increase, up to 1,528 in 2021.

Parker said he was grateful to be part of the bill’s passage, especially as a first-time legislator.

“It is an extraordinary privilege to have led the development and passage of this bill as a freshman legislator, and to be able to make a difference in the lives of so many here in my community—and across the state,” Parker stated. “I am grateful for the families, providers, practitioners, advocates, and individuals living with opioid use disorder who have guided our work this year, and I am committed to continuing these efforts in future legislative sessions.”