Backed by a panel of substance abuse recovery experts he called “warriors against addiction,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal addressed the fight against opioid addiction Thursday.
“The opioid crisis is an equal opportunity nationwide killer,” said Blumenthal as he discussed federal funding in place to fight addiction in 2020.
In the closing days of 2019, Congress approved a budgetary increase of $500 million dedicated to substance abuse and addiction programs. The federal money increases from $1 billion to $1.5 billion nationwide. Blumenthal said this is not enough and is advocating for a much greater increase over the next decade.
“That $500 million as a nation as a whole is literally a pittance,” he said. “It’s a fraction of what’s needed.”
Addiction recovery experts attending agree and say the death toll due to opioids is staggering.
“We’re losing the equivalent of Americans lost in 9/11 every two to three weeks in America to the opioid crisis,” said Sarah Howroyd, the director of Mental Health and Addiction Services for iCare Health Network.
The 2020 budget increase means $5.8 million additional for Connecticut programs. Hartford Healthcare’s Dr. J Craig Allen feels even more is needed.
“Unfortunately we are in a corridor here in the northeast where our rates of overdose deaths far exceed many different parts of the country. So I would’ve liked to have seen more money coming our way,” he said.
Federal money is used in Connecticut to fund programs that include access to medication-assisted treatment, on-call recovery coaches in hospital emergency rooms, and the purchase of 10,000 Narcan doses distributed around the state. Experts who spoke Thursday said the state has made gains in the area of treatment.
“What I’m concerned about now is those gains could be potentially lost if we don’t have an ongoing commitment that resources are sustained,” said Maria Coutant Skinner, executive director at the McCall Center.
Over the past two years, Connecticut has received $27.8 million in federal funding to fight addiction. That includes $11 million for 2018-2019 and $11 million plus the $5.8 million supplemental grant for 2019-2020 projects. Allen said the money is much needed.
“For the size of our state our rate of deaths, unfortunately is within the top 10 highest rates,” said Allen.