In 2016, there were 917 accidental drug deaths in Connecticut, most of them from opioid abuse, according to the office of the state’s Chief Medical Examiner.
In response, Governor Dannel Malloy convened the Connecticut Opioid Response, or CORE Team last year. The group of Yale-affiliated physicians and health insurance providers was tasked with finding evidence-based practices that would curb the number of opioid overdose deaths in the short term, and change the culture and stigma around addiction. Last fall, they released their plan.
Of the several strategies outlined in the report in the area of prevention, was a plan to work closely with doctors who prescribe opioid painkillers.
Dr. Robert Heimer is Professor of Epidemiology and Pharmacology at Yale School of Public Health and member of the CORE Team. Speaking on WNPR's Where We Live, he said many doctors in Connecticut may be overprescribing opioids for people in chronic pain, which could lead to addiction.
“It’s one of those situations where if you’ve got a hammer, everything is a nail,” said Heimer, “You don’t treat chronic pain with opioids, especially neuromuscular kinds of pain. You’re only masking the underlying symptoms, you are not dealing with them directly.”
Dr. Heimer said longer term strategies for dealing with chronic pain are often too costly for the patient depending on their health insurance plan. He recommends policy makers create ways to make long-term, opioid-free approaches to pain management and wellness more accessible.
Heimer said opioid painkillers are ideal for people recovering from surgery, but the CORE report recommends doctors prescribe lower doses for shorter periods of time after surgery to avoid the potential for addiction.
WNPR’s Opioid Addiction Crisis Reporting Initiative is supported by Hartford HealthCare Behavioral Health Network’s MATCH Program.