Earlier this year, the heroin epidemic in this country was front and center. It's not in the headlines anymore, but that doesn't mean the problem of opioid addiction, fueled by abusing prescription drugs or heroin, has gone away.
Torrington received a lot of attention for the number of overdose deaths there in 2013. Late last year, community stakeholders came together to form the Litchfield County Opiate Task Force. One of the task force's biggest initiatives to combat the problem throughout the entire county was the creation of a community case manager to work at the local hospital.
One of the task force members is Joy Pendola. "We often see in the emergency department people with opiate withdrawals or related opiate dependency medical issues and psychiatric issues," she said.
Pendola is the Clinical Manager of Adult Outpatient and Partial Hospital Services at Charlotte Hungerford Hospital in Torrington. "We targeted the case manager to really look at ways he can connect to those people in those times of crisis," she said.
The hospital created an electronic order that emergency department doctors fill out to alert the case manager of patients who are addicted to opiates. He then meets with the patient face to face, or makes a call within 24 hours, to talk about treatment options.
After four months, the case manager has had 58 patients referred to him. So far, 33 percent of them have been successfully connected to treatment like a detox center, or enrolled in a residential facility for substance abuse counseling.
Pendola said this is what the job was meant to do. "To me," she said, "that is a tremendous success when you consider that at any given time, only ten percent of people with substance abuse issues are in any treatment. Just engaging with a community case manager has really garnered actual results, and people are getting into treatment more frequently."
The state awarded a partial grant to Charlotte Hungerford Hospital to help pay for the case manager position.
Meanwhile, the latest information from the office of Connecticut's medical examiner continues to be troubling. In the first six months of this year, nearly 280 people have died from opiate-related overdoses. This is more than half of the total number of overdose deaths last year.
In Litchfield County, at least 21 have people died from overdoses on heroin or opiate prescription drugs.