While there has been so much emphasis on the COVID-19 pandemic over the past year or so, 2020 has quietly become a banner year for accidental drug poisoning deaths in Connecticut. Medical experts – as well as those affected by the tragedy – believe the problem will continue to worsen in 2021.
NBC Connecticut Investigates has created interactive maps, charts and graphs to break down accidental drug overdoses in Connecticut in 2020 by age, race, gender, what drug was used and how many fatal overdoses occurred in each city or town. town.
âUntil it’s on your doorstep, it’s not something they’re talking about,â Kristen Deitz said of the growing drug overdose problem over the past few months. Deitz lost his son, Drew, to accidental drug poisoning in 2020.
Deitz said making music was the healthiest outlet for Drew.
âSometimes I can’t listen to his music at all,â Deitz said. “Every part of these songs is him, from the creation, the writing, the setting up of the music, the setting up of the whole.” This music is how this Deitz now remembers her son’s life.
On March 17, 2020, as the world shut down and the COVID-19 crisis quickly took hold in Connecticut, Dietz struggled to get in touch with his son, who lived in an apartment in New Haven at the time.
âAt 1:42 am I tried to call her because I haven’t heard from this child all day,â Deitz said, recalling this afternoon. “He didn’t answer the phone, so in my head I’m like ‘Could he still sleep? No. At 3:55 pm, Deitz said she received a phone call from Drew’s roommate.
âShe was screaming ‘Drew is dead,’â Deitz said. “That’s what I answered on the phone when I heardâ¦ just screaming.”
Drew, who had suffered from depression and drug addiction in the past, had just died at the age of 25 of accidental drug poisoning. Deitz rushed to Drew’s apartment and asked the police to let her into his room to see his son.
âHe was lying in his bed in a position where I had seen him sleep all his life,â Deitz said. “He was beautiful.”
According to Deitz and according to records from the Connecticut Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME), Drew had fentanyl in his system. The official cause of death was classified as “acute poisoning due to the combined effects of fentanyl, alprazolam and escitalopram,” according to OCME data that Deitz confirmed regarding his son. The manner of dying was considered accidental.
Part of OCME’s mission is to track drug poisoning deaths statewide. Connecticut has seen a growing number of deaths largely involving illicit fentanyl, according to chief medical examiner Dr. James Gill.
âDue to the potency of fentanyl, it’s very easy to overdose if the medicine packet contains just a little bit more fentanyl than usual,â said Dr. Gill. Illegally manufactured fentanyl is rapidly replacing heroin as the most common opioid, leading to so many deaths in our state, said Gill.
âEvery year since 2013 they have increased significantly and I think this year we have seen an increase of about 14%,â Dr Gill said of accidental drug poisoning deaths.
âFentanyl is the dominant drug that we see. About 85% of these accidental drug poisoning deaths contain fentanyl in their system. So fentanyl is really the biggest problem, âsaid Dr Gill.
While much of the world’s attention was on the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, the upward trend in accidental drug poisoning deaths continued. In a single year – in just one state – there were 1,374 deaths, according to the OCME. He set a devastating new record.
âIt exploded during the pandemic,â Deitz said. “It got so much worse because of all the fear induced by what was going on.”
Deitz said the day before Drew died, the restaurant where he worked as a chef closed and Drew was forced to cancel a trip with a friend to Nashville, Tennessee. Fear of the virus, financial problems and sudden isolation, Deitz said, have driven Drew – and probably many others – to a very dark place.
âIt was a perfect storm for anyone struggling,â Deitz said. The mistake that led to Drew’s death should not define his life or any of the many lives lost like this last year, she said.
“Someone you know is writing ‘Rest in peace’ or ‘I’m so sorry’ to someone they know,” Deitz said. “There’s a lot less than six degrees of separation with that.”
Watch the full story tonight on NBC Connecticut News at 11 p.m.
What is fentanyl?
According to the CDC, pharmaceutical fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is approved for the treatment of severe pain, usually advanced cancer pain, and which may be 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine.
It is prescribed by a doctor as a transdermal patch or lozenge, but it can also be misused and abused. Some people illegally use fentanyl by squeezing the fentanyl out of the patch and then injecting it.
Fentanyl is often mixed with other drugs, such as heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and MDMA – with or without the knowledge of the user – to increase its euphoric effects, according to the CDC. Doctors warn that there is no safe level of drug use and that there are serious risks with fentanyl, in particular.
Fentanyl affects everyone differently, depending on their height, weight and health, whether that person has taken fentanyl before or is taking other medications at the same time, according to the CDC. The strength of fentanyl also varies. Too high a dose can cause chest pain, slowed breathing, seizures, fainting, coma and death.
Officials from the National Institutes of Health report that the fentanyl used illegally most often associated with recent overdoses is made in laboratories and illegally sold as a powder, deposited on blotting paper, put in drops and nasal sprays , or made into pills that look like other prescription opioids.
The US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has set up a free and confidential information service (in English or Spanish), open 24 hours / 365 days, for individuals and their family members confronted with mental health or substance abuse disorders. If you or someone you know has mental health or addiction issues, you can call 1-800-622-HELP (4357).
The Connecticut State Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services also has a line of action for distressed adults 18 years of age or older. This number is 1-800-HOPE-135 (1-800-467-3135). Help and resources can also be found by calling 2-1-1.