Drug counselors: State hospitals severely short-staffed in wake of teen's fentanyl overdose

Nearly two weeks after a 13-year-old Connecticut student fatally overdosed on fentanyl in school, drug counselors are warning of a "severe" shortage of drug addiction counselors.
Counselors claim the two state-run hospitals, Connecticut Valley Hospital in Middletown and Blue Hills in Hartford, are so short-staffed that they haven't accepted a new substance abuse patient in almost a month.
"When mom and dad are getting high, and you know, you see drugs coming in, it's a whole other chapter. But they pick up on this," said Blue Hills addiction counselor Victor Rodriguez.
After the death at Hartford's Sport and Medical Sciences Academy on Jan. 13th, Gov. Ned Lamont and state lawmakers pledged to tackle the problem head-on. But the SEIU 1199NE union says the administration "lacks urgency" in filling critical staff roles.
But in a statement, Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services spokesperson Mary Kate Mason said, "Admissions to substance use treatment at Connecticut Valley Hospital and Blue Hills Hospital are not closed. DMHAS is admitting patients to this level of care. Over the course of the pandemic, clients or staff who have been on the substance use treatment units have tested positive for the COVID virus. During these occurrences, DMHAS, following guidance from the CDC and the CT Department of Public Health has quarantined the units and temporarily halted admissions. DMHAS funds a wide array of treatment service across the state and is committed to ensuring individuals seeking services are able to safely access them."
Either way, advocates want the agency to hire 300 more staffers by April.
"Our conversation today is about life and death. And we have an opportunity to choose life," said state Sen. Saud Anwar.
"We here at NAMI Connecticut urge the governor, the folks at DMHAS, and the legislature, to take immediate action before more people die or have their lives destroyed," said Thomas Burr, of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
The SEIU union says money is budgeted for the positions, but they say the Lamont administration hasn't made filling the jobs at the two state hospitals a priority.