DeLauro hears from those on front lines of epidemic at roundtable in Middletown

U.S. Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, D-Connecticut, held a round-table discussion at Rushford in Middletown, which offers addiction and mental health treatment programs, to discuss the federal government?'s response to the opioid epidemic.

U.S. Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, D-Connecticut, held a round-table discussion at Rushford in Middletown, which offers addiction and mental health treatment programs, to discuss the federal government?’s response to the opioid epidemic.

MIDDLETOWN — U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3, sat down Monday morning with health-care professionals, addicts and state and local officials struggling to stem the seemingly ceaseless number of deaths caused by opioid addictions.

The meeting with some three dozen people at the Rushford facility comes as the Centers for Disease Control says 115 people die every day in this country from opioid overdose.

In 2017, opioid deaths last topped 1,000 (1,038) for the first time ever in Connecticut. In the past six years, according to the Chief State Medical Examiner, the death rate from opioid drugs has tripled.

DeLauro told the representatives, drawn from a cross section of groups working to contain the epidemic, that she has asked for the meeting to “hear from you where the resources would be best to go. Tell me what I don’t know,” she challenged her audience.

DeLauro said addiction is an issue that has touched her personally.

She has a cousin who has struggled with addiction and bad choices for years, and who, try as she might, “continues to fall down.”

The timing of the Monday’s event was particularly important, DeLauro said. The ranking member of the House Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Committee, HHS Secretary Alex Azar, is scheduled to testify before the committee Thursday.

The Trump administration is proposing deep cuts in funding for a range of programs that target drug addiction, recovery and mental health, DeLauro said. In fact, a substance abuse/mental package is targeted for a $688 million cut, she said.

The White House Office of Drug Policy will see its funding slashed from $17 million to $369,000, she said.

By and large, there are a range of services available, participants told DeLauro. What is needed is coordination between and among the various programs, said Dr. Marwan Haddad, medical director of the Center of Key Populations at the Community Health Center.

“We need coordination. Having that would help increase the number of providers,” he said.

Haddad was supported in his request by Dr. J. Craig Allen, medical director at Rushford. “Being able to coordinate; that would be great to have that resource,” he said.

But Rushford Dr. Samuel M. Silverman said his efforts are crippled by insufficient Medicare reimbursement.

DeLauro acknowledged the validity of Silverman’s complaint. She said the Trump administration is calling for $1.4 trillion reduction in Medicare reimbursement to providers.

A long-time addict who has often turned to crime to feed his addiction said addicts preparing to leave prison must be helped to make the often difficult transition to life on the outside.

His request for recovery coaches struck a nerve with several of the participants.

Nancy Navaretta, deputy commissioner of state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, endorsed the suggestion. “We’d love to have recovery coaches at every police department.”

Middletown Police Lt. Richard Davis also lent his support to the idea. “Probation and coaches have to work together.” Having recovery coaches available to assist addicts for up to 30 days after they leave prison “is a great idea,” he said.

But other speakers said there is a larger issue, one that often involves the knotty problem of homelessness. It is as essential as it is difficult to address the twin problems of homelessness and addiction, they said.

The complexity of the issues facing people with addiction was underscored by Aurora, a Rushford client. Acknowledging she has “an opioid issue,” Aurora said “I don’t know where to go or how to start.”

She has often made a series of telephone calls to see if she can find answers to those questions. But “I always get re-routed. It’s never one easy thing. There are always obstacles, and people with addiction can’t handle obstacles.”

DeLauro said her takeaway from the session was the need for structure and coordination.