In the Face of Rising Fentanyl Overdoses, Mountainside Advocates for Change

Published on July 24, 2019
Mountainside Canaan Aerial Shot

Canaan, CT – The potent synthetic opioid, fentanyl, continues to endanger Connecticut residents. Cheap to produce and up to 100 times more powerful than morphine, fentanyl is increasingly being used as an additive to other drugs like heroin and cocaine. In light of growing fentanyl-related overdoses, Mountainside treatment center in Canaan, CT has sought to inform lawmakers and the general public about the threat posed by fentanyl.

Stephen Langley, Executive Vice President at Mountainside, and Daniel Smith, Director of Community Development, questioned legislators about timely issues hindering treatment of fentanyl addiction at last week’s “CT in the Capitol” conference, held in Washington, DC. During the two-day conference, hosted by senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, lawmakers and business leaders addressed the opioid crisis and other concerns distinctly impacting Connecticut.

A 2018 report from the Connecticut Office of the Chief Medical Examiner indicates that fentanyl was responsible for 760 accidental overdose deaths across the state. Adding fentanyl to heroin has proven especially deadly, accounting for the deaths of 303 Connecticut residents. This represents a stark contrast from 2012, when this combination claimed the life of just one resident. Fentanyl-laced cocaine is another emerging cause for concern. In 2018, the combination of fentanyl and cocaine resulted in the deaths of 270 people statewide.

Mountainside has long advocated for the removal of obstacles to effective addiction treatment, including support for changes to governmental rules that prevent rapid testing for fentanyl.

To strengthen clients’ chances of success in treatment, providers need to be aware not only of the presence of fentanyl and its analogues but levels of the drug as well. The Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments of 1988 (CLIA) set forth by the Food and Drug Administration regulate how individuals are tested for the presence of drugs. Current CLIA laws complicate fentanyl treatment, mandating that urine analysis tests used to detect fentanyl be sent to a laboratory for qualitative analysis.

Because this process of identifying levels of drugs in an individual’s system can take 24-48 hours, interventions tailored to address addiction are delayed. Addiction treatment providers therefore have more difficulty offering targeted services to clients who may have fentanyl in their system, putting lives at risk. At the conference, Langley and Smith implored lawmakers and healthcare leaders to take additional action on behalf of this critical issue.

“We rely on presenting data and symptoms to apply the most clinically appropriate treatment to clients. By prohibiting our ability to appropriately test incoming clients for fentanyl and monitor the limits of the substance throughout a client’s withdrawal process, government regulations are forcing us to abandon evidence-based methods and rely on conventional or ‘gut-feel’ instincts,” says Langley. “This approach is no match for the deadliest drug this country has ever witnessed and has been a contributing factor to the increase of overdose deaths in this country.”