Prescription drugs deadly

Final/Metro 03/03/2013

Prescription drugs deadly

Antidepressants, painkillers account for 48 percent of overdose deaths in 2010



WATERBURY — Police found the woman dead in her Hotchkiss Street home in June 2010.

Only 48 years old, she had overdosed on methadone that investigators later found had been prescribed to her in exces¬sive amounts by her doctor.

The woman became one of the 39,329 people in the United States who died from drug over¬doses in 2010, a number that marked an increase for the 11th year in a row, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Although federal data from 2010 show an increase national¬ly, they also indicate that overdose deaths have been on the de¬cline in Connecticut.

More than half of those deaths in the United States, or 57 percent, involved prescrip¬tion drugs, including antide¬pressants and painkillers, according to findings printed in the Journal of American Medi¬cine.

Anti-anxiety drugs accounted for about 30 percent of those deaths, while anti-depressants took up about 18 percent of that total.

In Connecticut, 363 people died in 2010 from drug overdoses, according to the CDC. Of those, 41 died from anti-anxiety drugs or anti¬depressants, while 77 died of heroin overdoses and 55 died from overuse of cocaine.

The rate of overdose deaths is declining in the state, CDC data show. In 2009, fatal overdoses hit 393, well below the high mark of 422 people who over¬dosed in the state in 2006, ac¬cording to the CDC.

James Siemianowski, a spokesman for the state Depart¬ment of Mental Health and Ad¬diction Services, said he hadn’t reviewed the data from the CDC, which doesn’t cover deaths that occurred in 2011 or 2012. But he said he was concerned that the number of heroin overdoses may have decreased, and been replaced by prescription drug fatalities.

“What we are still fearing is that there has been an increase in prescription overdose deaths,” he said.

The CDC data shows that overdose deaths in New Haven County decreased slightly from 2009 to 2010, going from 122 to 116. People who were 45 to 54 years old accounted for most of those deaths in the county in 2010.

IN THE CASE OF THE WOMAN WHO DIED on Hotchkiss Street, police later said it didn’t appear her doctor evaluated the woman or performed any medical exams before he prescribed the excessive doses that led to her death. The doctor was later convicted of two felonies and had his medical license revoked.

Dr. Robert Plant, the chief clinical officer for Wellmore Behavioral Health in Waterbury, said his office has seen an increase in suspected overdoses in recent months that appear to be related to illegal drugs, primarily heroin. Wellmore has offices in Naugatuck and Torrington.

In some of those overdoses, Plant said, people have completed treatment, have gone back to using and may not have understood the potency of the heroin they were using due the fluctuation in the quality of street drugs.

In the case of prescription drugs, juveniles and older children are raiding their parents’ medicine cabinet to obtain a range of drugs, including potent painkillers. In some prescription overdose cases, users are mixing the drugs with alcohol and may forget how many pills they took, Plant said.

IN LITCHFIELD COUNTY, 21 PEOPLE SUFFERED fatal overdoses in 2010, a number that remained unchanged from the year before, according to CDC data.

In Torrington, a Republican-American investigation showed that police investigated 12 overdose- related deaths from 2010 to late 2012. Campion Ambulance reported they were treating two people a week for overdoses, but many were being treated with Narcan.

An application for a methadone clinic proposed for Torrington was also denied by that city’s Planning and Zoning Commission, but lawsuits are pending that could change that decision.

Plant said he and other providers are concerned about proposed cuts to the DHMAS budget that may lead to a reduction in services to addicts.

The governor’s two-year, $43.8 billion budget plan proposes to cut $63.1 million from various grant programs in DHMAS — $21 million in the first year and $42.1 million in the second year.

The reductions reflect savings associated with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The state administration is proposing to slash subsidies for uninsured individuals and individuals with inadequate coverage as a result of the federal health care overhaul.

SIEMIANOWSKI DESCRIBED THOSE CUTS to DHMAS as an “adjustment.” State grants had covered the cost of addiction services, including methadone treatments, for the uninsured or underinsured, but those people will now be covered under the federal overhaul, he said.

“There’s no expectation that people are going to lose services as a result of this,” he said.

But Plant said providers are concerned that the federal initiative won’t cover the cost of the labor-intensive, behind-the scenes work to make treatments possible, which includes processing paperwork and counseling. As a result, the current system that allows a person to come in within hours or a day, may turn into weeks, he said.

“We’ve been squeezed for years,” Plant said of providers.

Staff writer Paul Hughes contributed to this report.