Connecticut ranks among the top states with the most opioid-related emergency room visits in the country.
According to a report by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality on the rate of opioid related emergency room visits in 30 states, Connecticut ranked 5th with about 254 visits per 100,000 people in 2014. That's 77 visits above the national average, and a 35-percent increase for Connecticut between 2009 and 2014.
Massachusetts had the highest rate and Rhode Island ranked third, according to the report.
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When New Haven declared a public health emergency last June, a majority of the opioid overdose patients were admitted to Yale-New Haven Hospital’s emergency department.
“We were prepared but shocked,” YNHH Chief of Emergency Services Dr. Gail D’Onofrio said.
The patients believed they were buying cocaine. Instead, they ingested the potent synthetic opioid fentanyl.
“They were not breathing well, three patients died, several had to have breathing tubes placed down,” D’Onofrio said.
“The Northeast I think it probably relates to the high availability of prescription opioids, heroin and the increasing availability of very high potency opioids such as fentanyl,” said Dr. David Fiellin from the Yale School of Medicine.
Both Dr. Fiellin and Dr. D’Onofrio said this state is fighting the epidemic by expanding access to overdose reversal drugs, called naloxone, and there is a new law limiting pain killer prescriptions.
“We’re really working on safe prescribing so that physicians are only prescribing what’s necessary,” Dr. D'Onofrio said.
The Yale-New Haven emergency department hopes to connect patients with treatment programs and they have started giving them a medication called buprenorphine, in an effort to keep patients from making return trips to the emergency room.
“It helps with cravings. It helps reduce withdrawal symptoms and can help put people into recovery,” Dr. D'Onofrio said.
Nine months after that dark day in New Haven, Dr. D’Onofrio says everyone needs to remain vigilant.
“I unfortunately think that there will be more days like that as more drugs are brought into Connecticut and they’re cheaper than even heroin,” she said.
If it were up to Dr. D’Onofrio, she’d like to see access to naloxone expanded even more. She suggests that businesses, large events and apartment complexes have boxes of the drug reversal kits available in the event of an emergency.