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The Public Health Committee Attempts To Combat The Opioid Crisis

by Cindy Pena

President Donald Trump officially declared the misuse of opioid-based drugs in Connecticut as a national public health emergency back in December. The state has had over 1,000 fatal opioid-related overdoses by the end of the last year, according to CT.gov.

Connecticut lawmakers have pursued legislative reform in response to the crisis, including a bill that was passed by the Public Health Committee.

“This is a growing crisis nationally and we know because now our federal government is looking at addressing this issue. It is sad that we had to get to the point that people were dying on a daily basis or within an hour of each other in order to address this,” Connecticut State Rep. Pam Staneski, who co-sponsored the bill with three other representatives, said. “One of the things that we looked at was the things we have done in the past, complimenting those and building on those this year.”

The main provisions of the bill, which is known as the HB 7010, include:

  • Those who are in danger to themselves or others, who need medical treatment and who are incapacitated by alcohol, may be committed to treatment.
  • Group health insurers must provide coverage for inpatient substance abuse services to an insured or enrollee with a substance use disorder until their health condition has stabilized.
  • Each municipality must ensure that there is an emergency responder who is equipped and who has received training, approved by the commissioner of Public Health, in administrating opioid antagonist.

In late March of last year, HB 7010 passed in a 26-0 vote and moved out of committee to the House of Representatives. Staneski said that the unanimous vote demonstrated the committee’s willingness to a bipartisan solution.

“This drug crisis, this opioid crisis, doesn’t attach itself to someone who is a Republican or a Democrat or an Independent or working families, nor does it attach itself to somebody who is at risk meaning someone who gets state funding or somebody who can afford to pay for this treatment,” Staneski said. “The fact that it came out of the Public Health committee with everyone’s support speaks volumes on the desire for us to work on this.”

However, HB 7010 has not made much progress since it has been voted out of committee. In May, the House referred the bill to the Committee on Appropriations and it has not moved since.

It has not been voted on the floor of the House mainly due to disagreements on the provisions of Section I, according to Staneski. Section I, which includes involuntary admission to treatment, raises concerns to many as a violation of civil liberties.

“The biggest piece in my mind, in my opinion only, that caused this to not go forward on the calendar was that piece that allowed a person to be committed involuntarily for emergency alcohol and drug abuse treatment if they had repeatedly overdosed on drugs or been administered Narcan,” Staneski said.

Further, Janine Sullivan-Wiley, the executive director of Northwest Regional Mental Health Board, Inc., is in favor of the bill, but also has concerns regarding the provision requiring involuntary admission.

“This bill appears to address the concern about people who have been admitted to emergency departments after repeated overdoses,” stated Sullivan-Wiley in her written testimony. “However, in order for such an action to have the best chance of the person seeking treatment, which is most likely to result in recovery, it should also be coupled with some kind of engagement process.

Although the debate over voluntary and involuntary admission has halted the process, Staneski still hopes that this bill will help both sides get proper treatment.

“I think that it is better we have someone who says, ‘I am ready to get clean,’” Staneski said. “I am ready to address this issue. I get it that there is the civil liberties and civil rights piece on this and protecting that person, but wouldn’t you much rather have that person fighting for their civil liberties than being put six feet under because they were not able to get the treatment they needed?”