The United States is in the midst of a growing overdose crisis. More than 100,000 Americans died of drug overdoses during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, an almost 30% increase from the year prior.1 Between 2019 and 2020, all Connecticut counties saw an increase in overdose mortality rates, except for Litchfield County, which dropped from 41.8 fatal overdoses per 100,000 people to 39.7.
In response to increased rates of opioid-related overdoses in Litchfield County, The Litchfield County Opiate Task Force (LCOTF) was formed in 2013. The LCOTF is an inter-community team that brings together representatives from public health services, local government, law enforcement, individuals with lived experience, and their loved ones. Having previously had the highest mortality rates in the state, The LCOTF believes the decrease in Litchfield County is notable, and a testament to the county’s existing substance use support systems. Together with The LCOTF, we aimed to assess community needs around current harm reduction services in Litchfield County with a focus on the voices and recommendations of people who use drugs (PWUD).
Service users and LCOTF-affiliated community members identified similar barriers to access and opportunities for improvement among harm reduction services in Litchfield County. Our five broad recommendations for The LCOTF’s future work are as follows, with specific short-term and long-term strategies for implementation:
1. Creating a long-term means of amplifying the voices of active drug users
2. Supporting and utilizing the support systems that exist among PWUD
3. Delivering harm reduction services in non-traditional settings
4. Providing community education
5. Centralizing services
Our project would not have been possible without the mentorship and support of our teaching fellow Shannon Carter, our preceptor Lauren Pristo, and our professors Natasha Ray and Dr. Debbie Humphries. We’re very grateful to have been able to learn from The LCOTF members and Rover volunteers. Special thanks to the service users we met at The Rover whose generosity and expertise guided our project.
I had always been under the impression that I had to, like, do some kind of elaborate...Like, I had to go to a certain pharmacy and tell them like the specific, like, “I need an insulin syringe ten CCs,” you know, whatever... But like, this is obviously way easier.
Some people are embarrassed to come here. They’re so sick they can’t come here. I do a lot of errands for people and stuff like that. I try to help out. I always bring them food and stuff like that… You know, a lot of my friends don't want to come here into the soup kitchen and pick up dinner cans and stuff. So I give them to them and stuff. I know you guys don't really like that, I guess. But I handed out [Narcan] to a couple friends and they saved somebody's life too.
It sounds like there’s a lot of resources for people, but when you try to get there it’s not easy to get them. It’s not easy to find them, and we’ll talk about things like rides… Ok so my daughter’s going to her group, and she doesn’t have a car now, and she doesn’t live on a bus route or anything, so I provide rides.