BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — Lance Supersad remembers exactly why he thought he could smoke marijuana with no lasting health effects.
“People go, ‘Weed is not a drug, weed is not a drug, weed is not a drug,” the 20-year-old said at a recent meeting at Southwest Community Health Center in Bridgeport. “Weed is definitely a drug. That’s how it started for me.”
Now 18 months into recovery from an opioid addiction, Supersad was among those invited to tell their stories at a forum with U.S Sen. Richard Blumenthal, community leaders and substance abuse and medical professionals.
With the Senate poised to vote on a major opiate bill, Blumenthal said he wanted to discuss measures to combat the heroin epidemic in Connecticut and across the country.
Heroin and opiate abuse has skyrocketed in Connecticut. In 2012, there were 195 fatal heroin, morphine or codeine overdoses in the state. In 2015, 415 overdose deaths were reported, according to Blumenthal’s statistics.
The Comprehensive Addition and Recovery Act would equip states and communities with a broad array of resources and incentives to combat addiction.
Blumenthal said he has heard many stories about young people getting hooked after something as simple as a broken bone or wisdom tooth removal. A physician prescribes a painkiller and the patient becomes dependent, he said.
“That can lead to addictions to other drugs and even heroin,” Blumenthal said.
He credited local law enforcement for helping to get drugs off the street, but cautioned that was only part of the solution.
“We’re not going to imprison our way out of the epidemic,” he said.
Those gathered called upon Blumenthal to push for removal of barriers to treatment, which can range from lack of insurance support to programs that are too short to be effective.
Sometimes the problem is lack of awareness that help is out there, said John Hamilton, chief executive officer of Recovery Network of Programs.
“We have the whole continuum and we work well together,” he said.
Among the measures included in the bill are expanded prevention, training and education efforts, additional resources to treat incarcerated individuals, expanded disposal sites for excess prescription medication and enhanced prescription drug monitoring programs.
Blumenthal said he hopes to amend the bill to further enhance prescriber education and training, and to ensure all veterans have access to naloxone through VA without co-pays.
The Senate is expected to vote on the bill this week.
Click here to sign up for Daily Voice's free daily emails and news alerts.