New Haven County had the highest per-capita rate of overdoses in Connecticut during the first two months of 2018, according to new data from the Connecticut Department of Public Health.

According to the DPH, there were more than 1,000 emergency room visits stemming from drug overdoses in Connecticut in the first two months of 2018. New Haven County had 405 visits. As a means of reducing the state’s overdose problem, Gov. Dannel Malloy launched a statewide campaign in late February to raise drug awareness and encourage those affected by addiction to seek assistance. The main objective of the campaign is to reduce the stigma associated with drug use and encourage drug users to seek medical assistance.

“Opioid addiction and prescription drug misuse is a disease that is impacting nearly every community and people of every background,” Malloy said in a February press release. “It is a complex crisis that does not have one root cause, nor does it have a simple solution, but we need to do everything in our power to treat and prevent it.”

The state is working to increase hospital visits for overdose victims in an effort to save lives. The number of lives taken by drug overdoses — mostly from opioids and their substitutes — has tripled over the past five years. According to the DPH, the majority of the state’s drug-related deaths are linked to overdoses on prescription opioid painkillers.

Last year, the state legalized prescriptions of a medication called Naloxone or Narcan — which can reverse the effects of opioids when someone is overdosing — not just for drug users, but for people who live with drug users and may someday have to administer the medication.

State Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, said she believes the state must work to reduce drug sales and help drug addicts reduce overdose rates. “You have to fight it on both fronts,” she said, adding that cities should increase education about drug use in schools.

Boucher said she hopes a reduction in the stigma attached to drug use will help spur family conversations and encourage the addicted to seek treatment. The drug epidemic has destroyed families in the state, as 80 percent of children in foster care in Connecticut come from families where parents use drugs, Boucher noted.

Riley Tillitt ’19, president of the Yale chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, said taxing and regulating cannabis could help reduce drug deaths. He pointed to states such as Colorado where opioid overdose numbers went down after marijuana was legalized there. New Haven recently saw a string of overdoses from K2, a synthetic version of marijuana.

“Right now, if you want to buy cannabis, you have to buy it on the black market,” he said. “Usually, these people also sell harder drugs. By regulating cannabis sales, people will not have the incentive to seek black markets that may encourage more addictive drugs. It’s not the solution to the epidemic, but it will likely help, and it will certainly do no harm.”

Razan Sulieman | razan.sulieman@yale.edu