The opioid epidemic is affecting nearly every city in town in America. But right here in Connecticut, there's a program that could help save more lives all around the country.
Connecticut's Statewide Opioid Reporting Directive, or SWORD, has been in effect since 2019. It provides near real-time overdose surveillance tracking and experts say it is working.
Peter Canning, the EMS coordinator for UConn John Dempsey Hospital, sat down with NBC Connecticut's Dan Corcoran to talk about the program.
Dan: "So Peter, tell us a little bit about this surveillance tracking and how it works and why you're now encouraging other states to adopt the program as well."
Canning: "Thanks for having me on, Dan. So the program is very simple. When somebody overdoses, a 911 is called EMS response. They may revive the patient with Naloxone and then transport them to the hospital, following which they can contact the state poison control center and answer a series of questions about the call. So all this information provides us with a near real-time surveillance of what's going on as far as opioid overdoses in the state."
Dan: "So even though this surveillance tracking is pretty successful, the opioid situation here in Connecticut, it's still not good. overdoses are up 13 to 14% over the last year, so what still needs to be done?"
Canning: "It's not that more people are using drugs, it's become much more dangerous to use because of fentanyl. Fentanyl is a very powerful drug that's now it's pretty much replaced heroin. And in many cases, it's being put into counterfeit pills that look like oxycodone or Percocet. That makes a lot of money for the dealers. But the problem for the user is they can't judge the dose. So when people overdose, they're actually being poisoned, because they're getting a dose that they don't expect in many cases. And this is what's driving the deaths."
Dan: "Another big topic lately has been safe injection sites, they're called. New York City is the first to have one of these locations where people can take illegal drugs under supervision. What's the thinking behind this? And do you think we'll see more of these sites in the future?"
Canning: "I think that they're a great idea. The thinking is, is that as I said, people are dying, because stigma and law drive them into the shadows where they use alone, and no one can find them in time. By going into one of these safe injection sites, they get to talk with people who care about them with the health professionals and recovery experts. And, you know, if they're ready for recovery, they can get help for that. If they do use an A overdose, they can be saved. No one has ever died in one of these places. But they're best for a human connection. You know, people who are dead can't recover. And many of these people they came in, they became addicted through injury, and through prescriptions from their regular doctors, and their lives have tumbled into this horrible existence. And we need to love these people and welcome them back into our communities and treat them as human beings and offer them hope and keep them alive."