Overdose Epidemic Doesn’t Discriminate

Addiction is a growing health issue that is impacting a wider cross section of people in eastern Connecticut, but the problem is solvable with the right mix of collaboration, evidence-based treatment and coordinated care, a panel of experts said at Eastern Connecticut State University on Sept. 29, 2015.

“The large homes with the fancy cars, they have drug problems too,” said Bill Muskett, Windham Hospital Emergency Medical Services Manager and a long-time paramedic. “Every town has different issues, different drugs, but it’s ultimately the same problem.”

Muskett was one of five panelists who participated in the Overdose Epidemic forum, hosted by Hartford HealthCare (HHC), Windham Hospital and the HHC Behavioral Health Network.

Participants discussed the science of addiction, their firsthand experiences, and how they can work together to deal with K2, heroin and prescription drug abuse in the Windham region.

Willimantic became the focus of state-wide media attention this year after a rash of overdoses was credited to K2, otherwise known as synthetic marijuana.

But despite perception, the issue of substance abuse is not contained to Willimantic, said HHC Behavioral Health Network Vice President of Operations James O’Dea, PhD, MBA, who moderated the event.

“There are 169 towns and villages in Connecticut, and every community has people who are dealing with these issues,” O’Dea said.

“This disease does not discriminate,” said Leah Russack-Baker, Ed.D, LADC, Director at Natchaug Hospital’s Quinebaug Program.

  • “There are 169 towns and villages in Connecticut, and every community has people who are dealing with these issues.”

    - James O’Dea, PhD, MBA, Hartford HealthCare Behavioral Health Network Vice President of Operations

A major barrier to addressing the issue of substance abuse is the stigma around addiction, said Rebecca Allen, MPH, of the Connecticut Community for Addiction Recovery.

“So many think it’s a moral failing,” said Allen, who has been in recovery from heroin since 1998.

Samuel Silverman, MD, Medical Director of Addiction Services at Rushford, stressed that addiction is a disease where the brain’s pleasure centers get “hijacked” by substances.

“Once the brain is addicted, it’s like a dry creek bed in the desert,” Dr. Silverman said.

Samuel Silverman, MD, Rushford Medical Director of Addiction Services speaks at the Overdose Epidemic forum as Natchaug Hospital Program Director Leah Russack-Baker, Ed.D., LADC, looks on.

Silverman added that we tend to “dehumanize” people with addictions, and that needs to change. He applauded Allen’s achievements, including her graduation with a Master’s Degree while in recovery.

“Pride is the antidote to shame,” Silverman said.

A number of solutions were discussed including the widespread distribution of NarCan, which reverses the effects of an opioid overdose; medication- assisted treatment using Suboxone and other drugs; and clearer paths from emergency rooms to treatment programs. The answer, however, is not simple.

“If there was one solution we would have figured it out already,” O’Dea said.

But panelists agreed the first step is to start the conversation –whether it’s in your home with a child or family member, or in a public forum like the Overdose Epidemic, which included Hartford HealthCare and its community partners, all of whom vowed to work together on the substance abuse issues that affect eastern Connecticut.

“In order for change to happen we really do need to have uncomfortable conversations,” Russack-Baker said.

The Opioid Epidemic


1.9 million Americans live with opioid pain reliever addiction


517,000 Americans are addicted to heroin


100 Americans die from drug overdoses each day – more than car accidents and homicide


616 opioid overdose deaths in Connecticut in 2015