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Opioid Crisis Gets Response

By Bruno Matarazzo Jr. – Republican-American

TORRINGTON — A consortium of five local agencies and nonprofits will use a $1 million federal grant to address the opioid crisis in Litchfield County.

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal visited the McCall Center for Behavioral Health on Monday to announce the grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration’s Rural Communities Opioid Response Program.

The grant will be paid over three years and fund data collection, improve access and availability to medicated-assisted therapy, increase care and coordination between agencies, support telehealth and a mobile wellness van as well as outreach.

“The $1 million grant could be the beginning of a gamechanging effort. I say beginning because we know $1 million is a lot of money but it isn’t going to be the end game,” Blumenthal said. “We have to continue to work for more investment.”

Litchfield County has had the highest overdose mortality rate in the state. The county’s rate is 46.5 per 100,000 and the state is 33.8 per 100,000. The nation’s overdose mortality rate is 18.3. There were 262 non-fatal overdoses in the county in 2020 and 73 deaths currently reported. The number of fatal overdoses was the same in 2019 but was lower in 2018 at 66.

The CDC reported this week that the number of drug overdose deaths during a 12month period ending in April 2021 reached 100,306, an increase of 28.5% from the same period a year before.

The work by the consortium involves different efforts by each member. Greenwoods Counseling Referrals will be adding a provider to its staff to community outreach and recovery navigation.

At Charlotte Hungerford Hospital, Dr. Anuj Vohra, director of emergency services, saw three patients on heroin and fentanyl at the emergency department and all three were induced with suboxone to treat their withdrawals.

Another patient came in for other ailments and Vohra recognized after seeing her chart that she had previous drug use medical issues.

“So we talked about and she said, ‘yeah, I think I have an issue and I think I may be withdrawing,’ and I said, ‘well, we have some help we can give you today’,” Vohra recounted.

After returning to treat another patient, Vohra saw the young patient already speaking with one of the case managers the hospital has to work with people addicted to opioids. “Emergency medicine is a doorway where we can start the treatment,” Vohra said. “And I feel so fortunate to work with all of you and I’m so blessed that with our resources together, the senator and everybody else that is supporting us, we are saving lives, we are making a difference and we’re just getting warmed up,” Vohra added.

John Simoncelli, executive director of Greenwoods Counseling & Referrals, said there is a misconception the opioid crisis is only a Torrington problem but he said that’s not true.

On average, half of the overdoses are occurring in small towns in Litchfield County, Simoncelli said.

Maria Coutant Skinner, executive director of the McCall Center for Behavioral Health, said it was the second time the consortium applied for the grant.

The opioid crisis is now in its third wave, starting with prescription pills, then heroin and now fentanyl.

“(The opioid crisis) is so complicated, so complex, it’s so thorny, it is so insidious that it’s very hard to get your arms around and this is a way to get our arms around it,” Skinner said of the grant. “Resources, connections, being a team, recognizing the specific challenges in a rural community and having resources to address those, that’s the only thing I can see to change this.”

Contact Bruno Matarazzo Jr. at bmatarazzo@repam. com or on Twitter @ RA_BrunoJr.
November 29, 2021