Nowhere in the U.S. has avoided the dangerous, often deadly double-handed grasp of the global pandemic and the national opioid epidemic, and Bridgeport, Connecticut, is no different.
Thanks to the seemingly ever-present COVID-19 pandemic, the mention of the words “healthcare” and “public venue” in the same sentence could summon up ideas of a new temporary hospital with more ICU beds or the site of the latest statewide mass vaccination drive.
However, after many months of tragic deaths in Connecticut, and elsewhere in the U.S., from the coronavirus, and from the other “ever-present” – the U.S. opioid epidemic, and its record number of fatal drug overdoses – the residents of Bridgeport finally had some positive news, as they witnessed the long-awaited opening of the new Hartford HealthCare Amphitheater at the city’s Harbor Yard.
Last Wednesday night (July 28, 2021), the brand new boutique stage at the “Amp”(yes, it already has its nickname) was graced by both R-E-O Speedwagon, who apparently, even after all this time, are still desperate to “keep on lovin’ you,” and the legendary, and still progressive Styx.
As the sold-out crowd gathered together in their thousands, a sight certainly not seen often during the dark and socially isolated, pandemic days of last year, many of those present would have been thinking about those who weren’t there, who couldn’t be there, and their shared memories together – parents, brothers, sisters, close friends, who, for one reason or another, didn’t make it through the traumatic year that was 2020.
Bridgeport, CT, and the Opioid Epidemic in 2020
The entire U.S. was witness to a record 93,331 deaths by drug overdose during 2020 (the vast majority of these stemming from the ongoing opioid crisis), according to the recent press release from the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), part of the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC).
This tragically huge figure translates to a year-on-year increase of 29.4% across the U.S. as a whole; however, the state of Connecticut saw a year-on-year increase of only 10.7% (1,385 predicted cases of drug overdose death in 2020, compared to 1,251 reported cases in 2019) – thankfully far lower than the national percentage increase of nearly 30% but still 10.7% far too much if you’re a Connecticut resident.
“In the 2018 Community Wellbeing Survey, 1 in every 4 adults in Fairfield County reported knowing someone who has struggled with abuse of or addiction to prescription painkillers, heroin, or other opiates in the past 3 years.” – Fairfield County Community Wellbeing Index 2019
However, back in 2018, the state was actually in the top 10 U.S. states for opioid-related overdose deaths – out of a total of 1,017 total drug-related deaths in the state, 948 involved at least one opioid, 670 involved the synthetic opioid fentanyl (that is a surreal increase of 4685% from just 14 fentanyl-related deaths in 2012), and 391 involved the use of heroin.
Additionally, at that time, the increased misuse of opioids in Connecticut had turned into a major public health concern – in fact, in 2018, Connecticut residents were more likely to die from unintentional drug overdose than from a motor vehicle accident.
So now, if you look at the NCHS’s drug overdose mortality figures by state, Connecticut has been relatively fortunate. The 10.7% increase seen here was far lower than others, as, across the U.S., there were increases of well over 40%, far higher than the U.S. average. Nearby Vermont, Maine, and New York all saw high-than-average increases.
Thanks to numerous mitigation efforts by the state (primarily by the Department of Public Health and described below), Connecticut has, for now, averted an even worse situation.
For many drug policy onlookers and observers in the northeastern U.S., the state’s drug mortality figure is conclusive proof, if needed, that Connecticut’s range of current opioid drug policies and implemented measures (designed to restrict the ongoing social and economic damage caused by the opioid epidemic) are not only working but, compared to many other U.S. states, are working effectively, too.
However, that’s not to say Connecticut no longer has any opioid issue, let alone a wider substance use issue, but it does demonstrate their drug policy of active prevention may be a positive way forward for other states to follow.
Drug and Alcohol Use Statistics: Bridgeport & Fairfield County, CT
According to the 2019 Fairfield County Community Well Being Index, produced by Fairfield County’s Community Foundation and based upon data collected from in-depth interviews with 16,043 randomly selected adults in Connecticut during 2018:
- In Bridgeport, substance use and abuse is most common among males between 45-64 years of age in Bridgeport.
- When asked about youth susceptibility to addictive substances, a quarter of Fairfield County residents (exactly 25%) believed that the teenagers and adolescents in their neighborhood were either very likely or almost certain to abuse both drugs and alcohol.
- In Bridgeport specifically, this percentage increases to 43% – nearly double.
- Between 2012 – 2018, there have been 13 overdoses for every 1 million residents in Fairfield County; however, within the same timeframe, in Bridgeport, CT, there have been 37 overdoses for every 1 million residents – nearly triple the county’s overdose rate.
- In 2018, 67% of all drug overdose deaths (or two-thirds) involved the use of the synthetic opioid fentanyl.
Additionally, according to the 2016 Fairfield County Community Health Needs Assessment:
- 81.7% of Fairfield County residents believe excessive alcohol use is the #1 health issue facing their community.
- 6.8% of adults in Fairfield County meet the criteria for “heavy drinkers.”
- 18.3% of adults in Fairfield County regularly participate in episodes of binge drinking.
- These numbers – 6.8% and 18.3% – are higher than both the state percentages (6.5% and 17.7%, respectively) and the U.S. national rate (6.2% and 17.5%, respectively).
- 25% of people aged 12 and older engage in binge drinking behaviors in Fairfield County.
- 31% of deaths from motor vehicle accidents can be attributed to alcohol impairment.
- Although lower than the state percentage of 33%, it is still far higher than the U.S. national benchmark of 14%.
You can access a guide to Bridgeport’s current drug and alcohol addiction treatment services here.
Rewriting The Script: Connecticut’s Opioid Response
The Connecticut Department of Public Health (DPH) launched their multifaceted “Change The Script” opioid crisis awareness campaign officially in February 2018. Announced by Governor Dannel P. Malloy, the campaign aimed to provide communities, healthcare providers, pharmacists, and individuals with complete and detailed information on every aspect of the ongoing U.S. Opioid Epidemic.
“Opioid addiction and prescription drug misuse is a disease that is impacting nearly every community and people of every background. It is a complex crisis that does not have one root cause, nor does it have a simple solution, but we need to do everything in our power to treat and prevent it.” – Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy (February 26, 2018)
“Change the Script” was chosen as the campaign’s theme as it addresses the state’s need:
- To change public perception about opioid use disorder (OUD)
- To address the stigma and shame unfairly associated with the disorder
- To focus on the overprescribing of opioids occurring not just in Connecticut, but nationwide
- To educate the public about the need for the proper storage and disposal of these potentially addictive drugs
Furthermore, the campaign provides useful materials for social media and hard copy to be used for educating and raising awareness at the community level. The campaign has 3 distinct elements:
- Change The Script Toolkit: Creative materials such as advertisements, posters, billboards, direct-distribution pieces, radio scripts, and other materials that can be co-branded by an engaged party and used locally, and other ready-to-use materials
- The CT Prescription Monitoring and Reporting System (CPMRS): Digital ads, direct mail, social media, posters, flyers, and journal advertising to reach prescribers and pharmacists
Educational Campaign: Numerous materials to increase awareness of the dangers of opioid and prescription drug misuse, while focusing on both decreasing the stigma of addiction, and promoting life-saving measures, such as naloxone and treatment
However, in Connecticut, and specifically with the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic in early 2020, the state’s response to increased substance use doesn’t simply end there…
Connecticut’s Statewide Opioid Reporting Directive (SWORD)
Created by a state law passed in 2018 and then fully implemented in June 2019, Connecticut’s Statewide Opioid Reporting Directive (SWORD) now requires all hospitals and emergency medical service (EMS) companies statewide to report all opioid overdoses to the state Department of Public Health (DPH). This initiative means that the DPH receives real-time overdose data, and can then take appropriate action in any area of high concern.
“Live LOUD” (Living with Opioid Use Disorder)
Along with the Change the Script campaign by the Connecticut DPH to address the opioid crisis in the state, the DPH also launched another campaign – “Live Loud,” specifically aimed at the younger residents of Connecticut, which runs alongside other existing prevention campaigns.
The “Live LOUD” campaign (Living with Opioid Use Disorder), again run by Connecticut’s Department of Public Health, is again based on the principle of prevention through education. The campaign’s website is full of relevant information about the inherent dangers of opioid use, and it is aimed specifically at Connecticut’s younger demographic, including those who are actively using the drug recreationally.
This campaign includes information on how to access naloxone (the opioid reversal medication) and fentanyl testing strips, which users can use to see if their drug supply contains the potentially lethal synthetic opioid. In fact, a new analysis of data collected from 25 emergency room departments, including some in Connecticut and other states in the U.S. northeast, has shown that during 2020, opioid overdose-related visits to the ER rose by nearly one-third – 28.5%, when compared to 2018 and 2019.
Meet “N.O.R.A.” (Naloxone + Overdose Response App)
NORA is a free app for your mobile phone or tablet from the Connecticut Department of Public Health; the purpose of the NORA app is to prevent, treat, and report an opioid overdose. The app provides information to the user on what signs you should look for in the case of a suspected opioid overdose, a step-by-step guide on how you should respond, how to give naloxone (with instructions on each of the 4 types available, how to give both CPR and use the Rescue Breathing technique, and, lastly, a short form to send in detailing the actual overdose.
Syringe Service Programs in Connecticut
Finally, Syringe Service Programs (SSPs) operate in the state of Connecticut, and a readily updated list of these for the state is provided by Positive Prevention CT. SSPs provide a range of services including:
- Clean syringes
- Used syringe collection
- Harm Reduction Education
- HIV and Hepatitis C testing/screening
- Overdose Prevention (OD) Education, and
- Referrals to drug treatment, STD screening, and other ancillary services
Focus on Alcohol: “Let’s #MentionPrevention”
“Let’s #MentionPrevention” is a grassroots campaign, begun in 2018, focusing on substance use prevention, education, and awareness in Connecticut, and is designed to be as responsive as possible to trends in substance use throughout the state. The campaign evolved directly from the results provided within the report “Trends in Substance Use in Connecticut, 2018,” prepared by the UConn School of Medicine, part of the University of Connecticut.
Presently, and in addition to the opioid-based campaign programs described above, the focus of “Let’s #MentionPrevention” is to address the numerous health risks associated with the excessive alcohol use seen across the state of Connecticut. Like the Change The script campaign, there is a downloadable digital toolkit available, too.
Excessive Alcohol Use in Bridgeport, Fairfield County & Connecticut During 2020
Just like any other state in the U.S., if you listed the top 3 substances that are regularly misused, you would find alcohol – not necessarily top of the list, but it will be there in those top 3. Connecticut is no different.
According to state estimates dated November 10, 2020, the annual tax revenue from alcohol sales for the year was $73.2 million. Although this figure is reduced somewhat by the lack of social gatherings, it was still a significant increase on the previous year, which stood at $68.9 million. In other words, people were drinking much more, and drinking much more either alone or in the family home.
It was a pattern consistently repeated across the nation, and, here in Connecticut, like many other U.S. states, it has led to a notable increase in alcohol-related diseases, such as liver damage (particularly among young women) and cardiovascular issues, and fatal motor vehicle accidents and police arrests for DUI. Addiction experts around the state of Connecticut say the pandemic has made alcoholism an even more acute issue.
“We’ve seen an uptick in terms of overall usage of alcohol as well as other substances. The pandemic has definitely impacted our natural support networks that oftentimes play a major role in people’s recovery.” – Teodoro Anderson Diaz, Behavioral Health Services, Wheeler Clinic, Hartford, CT.
SpringBoard Recovery: Successful Opioid Addiction Treatment
At SpringBoard Recovery, located in Scottsdale, Arizona, regardless of where you live, we can help you. Many people actually prefer to receive their substance use treatment in another state – away from all of the distractions, influences, temptations, and possible relapse triggers that exist in their own area. After all, it’s where the substance issues originally began.
Our professional drug and alcohol rehab facility is only a 7-8 hour flight between Hartford, CT, and Phoenix, AZ. We offer a range of professional drug treatment programs specifically designed to ensure you have the best possible chance to move on with your life, be opioid-free, and work towards a sustainable, long-term recovery.
Finding addiction treatment out of your home state can really be a true blessing in disguise, enabling you to concentrate 100% on this important personal journey. Contact us today for more information.
- U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC): Provisional Drug Overdose Death Counts” System. July, 2021. Available at CDC.gov.
- Hartford HealthCare Amphitheater: Homepage. July, 2021. Available at HartfordHealthCareAmp.com.
- Fairfield County’s Community Foundation: “Fairfield County Community Wellbeing Index 2019”. 2019. Available at FCCFoundation.org.
- Fairfield Department of Health: “2016 Fairfield County Community Health Needs Assessment.” 2016. Available at myFDH.org.
- Connecticut Department of Public Health (DPH). Change The Script – Toolkit. 2021. Available at drugfreeCT.org.
- Connecticut Department of Mental Health & Addiction Services (DMHAS). Change The Script: Homepage. 2021. Available at drugfreeCT.org.
- Connecticut Department of Public Health (DPH). Statewide Opioid Reporting Directive (SWORD). June, 2021. Available at Portal.CT.org.
- LiveLOUD: Homepage. 2021. Available at LiveLOUD.org
- Science Daily: “Emergency Department Visits Related to Opioid Overdoses Up Significantly During COVID-19 Pandemic.” July 2021. Available at ScienceDaily.com.
- Connecticut Department of Public Health (DPH). “N.O.R.A.” (Naloxone + Overdose Response App): Homepage. 2021. Available at egov.CT.gov.
- Positive Prevention CT: Homepage. 2021. Available at PositivePreventionCT.org.
- National Harm Reduction Coalition: Homepage. 2020. Available at HarmReduction.org.
- CT Center for Harm Reduction: Homepage. 2021. Available at Naloxone-CT.org.
- Connecticut Department of Public Health (DPH). Let’s #MentionPrevention: Homepage. 2021. Available at drugfreeCT.org.
- UConn School of Medicine, University of Connecticut: “Trends in Substance Use in Connecticut, 2018.” 2018. Available at HealthUConn.edu.
- Connecticut Department of Public Health (DPH). Let’s #MentionPrevention – Toolkit. 2021. Available at drugfreeCT.org.