15 Percent Rise in Connecticut Overdose Deaths Points to Dangers of Emerging Drugs

Published on November 15, 2021

Canaan, CT – Mountainside treatment center is warning the public about fentanyl and other new drugs that have contributed to sharp increases in Connecticut overdose deaths since 2019. According to the Connecticut Department of Health (DPH), in 2020 there were 1,378 deadly drug overdoses in the state, representing a nearly 15 percent increase from the previous year’s 1,202 lethal drug overdoses. Some of the drugs that pose a threat include carfentanil and xylazine, which are typically used as sedatives by veterinarians.

The drug epidemic involving newly emerging substances is widespread, and fentanyl as well as fentanyl analogs, such as carfentanil – a synthetic opioid so potent that it is often used as an elephant tranquilizer – are primarily to blame. While heroin use was more prevalent a decade ago, the lower cost to produce fentanyl and fentanyl analogs has contributed to the growing popularity of these drugs. Authorities in California recently seized more than 21 kilograms of carfentanil, enough to fatally harm 50 million people. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has reported that this drug is 100 times stronger than fentanyl – which is highly addictive and deadly on its own – and 10,000 times more potent than morphine. Carfentanil was present in a handful of Connecticut overdose deaths in 2017, and the DPH found that the drug reemerged in 2020.

Another growing danger in the state is the increasingly prevalent combination of fentanyl and xylazine, a non-opioid drug often used during surgical procedures for animals and not recommended for human use. Officials found that fentanyl was present in 85 percent of total drug overdose deaths in 2020, and 141 of these deaths also involved xylazine. This is nearly double the number of lives that the xylazine-fentanyl mixture claimed just one year earlier, in 2019.

Because the use of xylazine and carfentanil can cause slowed heart rate and low blood pressure, researchers believe that combining either of these drugs with other central nervous system depressants, such as opioids and alcohol, can lead to trouble breathing, and in some cases, death.

“With news cycles focusing on the pandemic since early last year, we cannot afford to overlook the drug epidemic, which is only intensifying as new combinations of substances become more widespread,” says Lisa Westerson, LCSW, Director of Residential Services at Mountainside. “Because drugs are often laced with more potent substances, like fentanyl, without people even realizing, any level of drug use can be dangerous. Education about the dangers of all drugs and the use of prevention measures – such as naloxone to reverse opioid overdoses – are needed in order to build safer, healthier communities.”

The fatal nature of these drugs means that seeking professional assistance sooner rather than later is vital. Individuals and families struggling with substance misuse should reach out to a local treatment center to begin the recovery process.