State legislators make Opiate Addiction Prevention proposals priority in new legislative session

After listening to the heart wrenching stories from residents, community volunteers and addiction advocates at last month’s legislative forum on opiate addiction, in which the focus of the  discussion was developing legislation that could be implemented to combat the growing opiate addiction, State Reps. David Rutigliano (R-123), Brenda Kupchick (R-132), Laura Devlin (R-134), and Ben McGorty (R-122) are putting ideas and concepts from these local advocates into bill proposal requests for the upcoming legislative session which began on Feb. 3.

Additionally, first-term legislator Monroe state Rep. J.P. Sredzinski (R-112), who is on the Public Safety & Security committee, signed on to the opiate prevention proposals. Sredzinski is a Public Safety 911 Dispatch Supervisor for the Town of Stratford.

States, including Connecticut, have increasingly seen the rapid growth of heroin use and the abuse of prescription painkillers and are now mobilizing ways to stop the epidemic.

Particularly, there have been many opiate related deaths in the greater Fairfield area and in Trumbull.

Fairfield County has been designated as a “high intensity drug trafficking area” by the US government.

“We owe it our constituents to be proactive about this epidemic,” Rep. Rutigliano said. “These proposals look at the many facets of opiate addiction and the ambiguities in state law.”

Rep. Kupchick agreed, acknowledging that the meeting allowed the state representatives the chance to listen and learn “and put together proposals we hope will be helpful in fighting against the opiate addiction epidemic.”

“I've been personally impacted by this issue and want to help families and their addicted loved ones before it’s too late,” she said.

Last month, at the ‘A Community Discussion On Connecticut’s Opiate Addiction Crisis’ legislators committed to meet and develop legislative proposals based on the what they heard here are some of the bill proposal requests they plan to submit.

  • Advocating drug education health education courses in earlier grades in schools

  • Requiring drug testing to be conducted prior to the refill of certain prescriptions

  • Prohibiting doctors from prescribing an excessive amount of medication when it is not necessary for the treatment of the patient and that shall also apply to insurance companies

  • Establishing a crime of murder by sale of an opiod controlled substance to hold drug dealers liable for the sale of drugs that result in the death of the person who purchased the drugs from the dealer

  • Making Narcan available to all so families may access Narcan at pharmacies over the counter

  • Allowing for drug "dropboxes" in pharmacies. Dropboxes shall accept unused drugs

  • Requiring methadone clinics to verify that a client is "drug free" before dispensing any medication to the client

  • Requiring doctors who prescribe opiates to qualify for a "rider" or "endorsement" on their medical license that allows them to prescribe opiates after completing addiction continuing education

“The voices of loved ones will not and should not go unheard,” Rep. Devlin said. “These concepts are common sense proposals on opiate and prescription painkiller addiction with the goal to curb the destruction of Connecticut families.”

Rep. McGorty who attended the opiate forum in January said, called it an educational experience.

“Speaking with the families in my community, area Chiefs of Police, EMS workers and specialists in the addictive services, I learned a lot,” he said. “Not many residents in our communities know this is happening around them.

“It was important to hear from those that are victims of this horrible drug come out and tell their stories,” he added. “I left the forum with tools to bring to Hartford to help stop the opiate abuse in Connecticut.”

"As legislators, it is our duty to make any and all attempts to protect our youth and keep our communities safe,” Rep. Sredzinski said. “While these proposals being submitted to the General Assembly certainly will not fix all the problems that exist, my hope is that progress can be made because any progress results in saving lives."

All five legislators said they hoped the leadership of each one of the committees where the proposals were sent will raise them for a public hearing.

Over the past three years, deaths due to heroin and opiate usage have increased significantly in Connecticut. In 2012, there were 195 fatal heroin, morphine or codeine overdoses. In 2013, the number of fatal overdoses jumped to 284 and in 2014, the number again rose to 347.

The director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy Michael Botticelli testified before a U.S. Senate committee that heroin use and deaths involving heroin use are rising significantly throughout the United States among men and women, in most age groups, and regardless of income level. He said that since 2007, there has been a 340 percent increase in heroin-involved overdose deaths, from 2,402 in 2007 to 10,574 in 2014.

In this year’s short session, individual legislators may only propose bills that are “fiscal in nature,” meaning any measure which would adjust the budget.

For the opiate-related legislation, members must go through the committee of cognizance and have the proposal raised as a committee bill.