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Addiction Programs Adapt To Meet Challenges of Pandemic And A Rising Need

Jun 29, 2020

Earlier this year, a National Institutes of Health (NIH) examination of death certificates in the U.S. showed a sharp rise in alcohol-related deaths between 1999 and 2017. Connecticut mirrored those numbers, and addiction organizations stepped up their efforts to reach those in need.

Then came the pandemic. Treatment centers, support groups and the state were suddenly ordered to shut down.

Branimir Balogović / Pexels.com

You remember what the mother of Mr. Rogers said: Always look for the helpers.

Turns out, they're everywhere. Sometimes they're livestreaming themselves doing great work on social media, sometimes they're in a photo, smiling behind a mask as part of a group of volunteers (spaced six feet apart, of course), and sometimes you never even know they're there.

social distancing
Ryan Caron King / Connecticut Public

Just a couple of weeks ago, Mary Gotlibowski was still going from hospital to hospital, working as an emergency room recovery coach and meeting with patients who had survived a drug overdose or those who had come in seeking help for addiction.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continued to spread throughout Connecticut and hospitals began to admit infected patients, Gotlibowski and other coaches had to leave their posts in the emergency departments. 

package store sign
Alastair Battson / Creative Commons

Consider the plight of the alcoholic during this coronavirus shutdown. Liquor is still widely available at stores and even now via delivery. At the same time, social distancing means in-person recovery meetings are out of the question. Connecticut Public Radio's John Henry Smith spoke with Michael Askew, director of recovery advocacy for the Connecticut Community for Addiction Recovery. 

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Karen Brown / New England Public Radio

A couple of months ago, the most talked-about public health epidemic in New England was opioid addiction. While the COVID-19 pandemic has since taken over, the drug crisis has not gone away. But addressing it has become much harder.

She was in medical school. He was just out of prison.

Sarah Ziegenhorn and Andy Beeler's romance grew out of a shared passion to do more about the country's drug overdose crisis.

Ziegenhorn moved back to her home state of Iowa when she was 26. She had been working in Washington, D.C., where she also volunteered at a needle exchange. She was ambitious and driven to help those in her community who were overdosing and dying, including people she had grown up with.

health care providers
Nicole Leonard / Connecticut Public Radio

Connecticut advocates for addiction treatment say proposed funding cuts to the federal Medicaid program would leave fewer resources for people with substance use disorders.

The proposed cuts are part of President Donald Trump’s federal budget plan, which was released earlier this month. It includes cuts to Medicaid, a program that provides health coverage for people in poverty, and the Affordable Care Act totaling about $1 trillion in the next decade. 

Erowid Center

The number of people who died in Connecticut from drug overdoses in 2019 was the most the state has recorded in a single year, even after a dip in deaths in 2018.

New state data show that 1,200 people died, an 18% jump from the previous year, according to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. 

Nicole Leonard / Connecticut Public Radio

Debra Trueax knew she was struggling with an acute substance use disorder, but she wanted to hide it from family and friends. So when she went to a hospital in 2018, she had a plan.

“I went to the emergency room looking to get a bed and for mental health and addiction services,” she said. “I knew where I could get a bed where I could also sort of on the sly get treatment for substance abuse without anyone knowing.”

RYAN CARON KING / CT Public Radio

Connecticut expects to receive around $6 million in additional federal funding to help fight the opioid crisis. U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal announced Thursday that the money will come from $1.5 billion recently approved by Congress to help states provide prevention and treatment efforts. 

Wonderlane / Creative Commons

When Kyle Zimmer started working in the construction industry 40 years ago, he said health and safety standards focused on reducing injuries and fatalities from electrical hazards, falls and a lack of protective gear.  

But today, he said the focus needs to be on addiction, suicide prevention and behavioral health.

Atascadero High School Hilltop News / Facebook

Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal is calling on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to ban vaping products that are concealed as everyday items like smart watches, backpacks and phone cases. Blumenthal said these products are aimed at teenagers who are trying to "conceal and camouflage their addiction" from their teachers and parents.

TBEC Review / Wikimedia Commons

Doctors and public health officials are still trying to figure out the cause behind more than 800 lung injuries related to vaping that have been reported in the U.S. in recent months.

At the same time, there is a longer-term public health crisis as more and more young people have become addicted to nicotine through e-cigarette use -- despite decades of declining traditional cigarette use among teens. 

This hour, we talk about these two public health crises. Do you vape nicotine products like Juul, or maybe use THC cartridges or vape pens from a dispensary? Has the current outbreak in lung injuries changed your vaping habits?

The 2011 casino law in Massachusetts required the state to help address problem gambling. About a year after MGM Springfield opened, health leaders say programs are rolling out.

Why does e-cigarette maker Juul advertise its product on TV when cigarette ads are banned? The short answer: Because it can.

For nearly 50 years, cigarette advertising has been banned from TV and radio. But electronic cigarettes — those battery-operated devices that often resemble oversized USB flash drives with flavored nicotine "pods" that clip in on the end — aren't addressed in the law.

A western Massachusetts sheriff announced Monday he’s mounting a fight against efforts to eliminate the involuntary addiction treatment program he runs in his jail.

Vaping 360 / Flickr

The state of Connecticut is launching an investigation into how one e-cigarette brand is marketed.

Attorney General William Tong announced on Wednesday that he’s sent a ‘civil investigative demand’ to Juul Labs Incorporated, the makers of Juul e-liquids.

Paramedic Peter Canning walks through Hartford’s Pope Park. He picks up empty heroin baggies as he passes by athletic fields, a public pool and a picnic pavilion where a few people appear to nod off.

A health official in Springfield, Massachusetts, said she was surprised by a jump in the number of opioid overdose deaths in the city, and she doesn't know why it happened.

Connecticut Attorney General William Tong
Frankie Graziano / Connecticut Public Radio

Emails sent by the former chairman of Purdue Pharma are being seen by the public as a result of a complaint filed by the state of Connecticut.

Nicole Leonard / Connecticut Public Radio

In her mid-20s, Sarah Howroyd was in a car accident with her fiancé. She suffered minor injuries to her neck and back, and the couple sought treatment for the pain.

“And we were prescribed an astronomical amount of Oxycontin,” she said.

It was the beginning of her long struggle with opioid addiction. 

A major pharmaceutical distribution company and two of its former executives are facing criminal charges for their roles in advancing the nation's opioid crisis and profiting from it.

Mark Pazniokas / CTMirror.org

This hour, we look at how successful Governor Ned Lamont's first hundred days were, and what his plans are to create a "cost-efficient, user friendly" government. Meanwhile, he's at odds with fellow Democrats over a proposed controversal tax increase on the state's wealthy residents.

Ryan Caron King / Connecticut Public Radio

Between public testimonies on whether or not Connecticut should legalize recreational marijuana, legislators also heard from patients and health care providers Friday on proposed changes to the existing medical marijuana program.

Among them is a plan to add opioid use disorder as a condition that would qualify for treatment with medical cannabis, but many doctors testified against the idea, citing a lack of medical study.

Men are dying after opioid overdoses at nearly three times the rate of women in the United States. Overdose deaths are increasing faster among black and Latino Americans than among whites. And there's an especially steep rise in the number of young adults ages 25 to 34 whose death certificates include some version of the drug fentanyl.

Ryan Caron King / WNPR

Connecticut emergency departments will get free supplies of naloxone, the opioid antidote, to start distributing the reversal drug to patients as they leave the hospital.

diego_cervo/iStock / Thinkstock

In southeastern Connecticut, a team of Recovery Navigators is offering a hand -- and a sense of hope -- to residents with opioid drug addiction. This hour, we take an in-depth look at the work this team is doing.

We also hear why some municipal leaders -- including the mayor of New London, Connecticut -- are championing legislation that would grant municipalities the right to sue big pharma over the ongoing opioid crisis.

And finally, when it comes to Medicaid insurance, why are certified nurse midwives in Connecticut reimbursed at a lower rate than OB/GYN physicians? We take a closer look with Connecticut Public Radio health care reporter Nicole Leonard, and we also hear from you. 

Patrick Skahill / Connecticut Public Radio

While the total number of people who died from any overdose in 2018 is slightly down from the year before, fentanyl showed up in more than 75 percent of deaths—making it more common than heroin.

The 2019 tax season is here. Have you filed your forms? If so, good on you for not procrastinating. If not, you might want to reconsider waiting until the last minute... because the U.S. tax code has changed.

This hour, we take an in-depth look at the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act and find out what it means for those filing taxes this year.

Later, Connecticut Public Radio’s Patrick Skahill takes us inside a UConn lecture hall, where students are learning the science of cultivating... get this... cannabis. 

Matthew Powell / Flickr

When it comes to gambling addiction, what segments of the U.S. population are most affected? This hour, we look at a new report by Connecticut Public Radio and the Sharing America initiative, which shines a light on the issue of problem gambling within the Southeast Asian refugee community.

Later, we discuss a new report on weight-based bullying and its effect on young members of the LGBTQ community. Dr. Rebecca Puhl of the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity joins us and we also hear from you. 

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