In the last three years, Connecticut has recorded 3,829 drug deaths, according to the state health department. That's 900 more than died in the 9/11 attacks and the deadly overdose trend continues.
This week, though, Connecticut and seven other states reached a historic settlement with one of the world's largest opioid makers.
Stamford-based Purdue Pharma will pay $6 billion to victims' families and for ongoing addiction treatment. That with two other settlements, Connecticut's share is in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
So what happens now that a deal has been reached?
NBC Connecticut's Mike Hydeck spoke with Maria Coutant Skinner, a licensed social worker and CEO of the McCall Center for Behavior Health in Torrington.
Mike Hydeck: "From your vantage point on the frontlines of both addiction and recovery, what is the most urgent need right now?"
Maria Coutant Skinner: "You know, there's certainly a great deal of urgency that's required if we're going to answer the call to action that I believe this crisis warrants. So most important, I think, is that we are valuing the lives of people who are struggling with addiction. I think when we can recognize that people use drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism, a coping mechanism for pain, for unresolved trauma, for any kind of unresolved hurt that they've experienced, then it helps us to understand what those root causes are, and that when someone gets a prescription for a painful experience, it could be, you know, a wisdom tooth removal, an ACL tear. And when they take that medication, if they also find relief, not only from that knee or that tooth pain, but they find relief from some of that other psychic pain that they're carrying, then those are particular vulnerabilities that some of us have. And it can set off a chain of events that can be quite devastating for so many. And that's what we're seeing with those numbers that you just outlined."
Mike Hydeck: "So battling addiction can last literally years, sometimes more than a decade. For some, do you think this state should have a more permanent commitment? Because at some point this settlement money runs out. Should the state be looking at legislation to better fund mental health efforts, addiction efforts and the like?"
Maria Coutant Skinner: "Well, absolutely. I do want to make sure to comment on the existing infrastructure that is in place. I think we are very fortunate in Connecticut to have an extraordinary set of state partners with the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, the Department of Children and Families, certainly DPH and others, and the nonprofit provider system that has been the backbone of service delivery. These are my friends and colleagues and they are an extraordinary group of dedicated professionals who are absolutely committed to eradicating stigma and providing access and high quality care. We have done that in a very, very under-resourced system for a very, very long time. There are changes underway, in fact, I think appeals made to the governor's budget to adequately fund nonprofits long term. And also some changes coming with the advent of the 1115 Waiver in the State of Connecticut, which will change how service delivery happens."
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Mike Hydeck: "What is the 1115 Waiver? That's inside your industry kind of definition. What is it?"
Maria Coutant Skinner: "Yeah, sorry. So that is essentially a shift in both the payer mix for service delivery and ways that services are delivered. So moving to Medicaid as a payer for services, for residential addiction services, and eventually other levels of care as well, including intensive outpatient and outpatient. All of this is underway, it's before the legislature right now and steps are being taken so that likely will happen sometime in the spring or summer. And it really means that there is an increase in the standard of care for people who are struggling with addiction. And so we're really embracing that as a service provider community. I think in addition to that, there are so many programs that we know benefit people that are not necessarily reimbursable services and those are typically funded by grants and in our state, grants come from those state partners I was talking about. But again, these are things that really are our key to building a support system for families, because there's all the associated struggles that go along with addiction that impact far more than the identified patient. There's systems, communities, friends, loved ones, that also really have to be part of the recovery journey."
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Mike Hydeck: "I'd like to get one more question. I only have less than a minute left. Governor Lamont's plan as we move forward with this settlement has a committee to decide how the fund is invested, how it's distributed, and he wants to be transparent, which is important considering recent events in his administration. How can healthcare facilities like yours help the public and help families who need this money for treatment and help? How do we know that the money is being used for the right purposes?"
Maria Coutant Skinner: "Yeah, I think the Governor has the right idea in building the committee to be able to do that. And we have an existing structure in the Connecticut Alcohol and Drug Policy Council where most of those identified key stakeholders are at the table. Involving municipalities is just the final step in being able to do that. But that is certainly the right mechanism by which to identify where the needs are, where the gaps are and to direct those dollars where they're most needed."