NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — Skyler Paige Northup was all smiles at her high school graduation back in June of 2016. The Winsted teenager attended Oliver Wolcott Technical Trade School.
“A ball of energy, always on the go. Never stopped moving, never stopped talking,” said Charles Northup, Skyler’s father.
Just six months after the graduation, Skyler would become one of Connecticut’s youngest victims of the opioid epidemic.
“I left my house at about 2:30 to go shopping with my girlfriend and my son and uh, we stopped and had pizza and I kept trying to reach her on her cell phone and I wasn’t getting a response so I just said I gotta go home and when I got home, I found her,” said Northup.
Northup says his daughter died from an overdose two days after coming home from a rehab program.
“A week before Halloween she actually, well, we finally found a way to get her into a rehab center and she spent rehab or spent time in rehab up until December 2nd. She came home and that was a Friday night when she came home,” said Northup.
Skyler was one of 917 people to die in the state last year from accidental drug overdoses. This year the number of fatal overdoses is expected to climb to 1071. The half year report released from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner says so far 539 people have died from overdoses in 2017. Those numbers prompting Senator Richard Blumenthal to tour the office today.
“I’m concerned for the staff. You know they’re doing more numbers than they should which can effect quality, but also can effect their well being. It’s a stressful work. There can be burnout,” said Dr. James Gill, Chief Medical Examiner for the State of Connecticut.
Gill says budget cuts have hit them hard. The office was notified in February by the National Association of the Medical Examiners that they had lost full accreditation and they’ve been working on reversing that. Currently they have 7 medical examiners on staff, but they need 9.
“We do like to interact with our families and let them know what our findings are, but because of our short staff we can’t always reach out. When we normally would like to call them up, when we finally certify the death and let them know, but sometimes we can’t do that because we’re so busy,” said Gil.
And that’s exactly what happened in Skyler’s case. Northup says he found out through a death certificate sent in the mail that his daughter had heroin and fentanyl in her system when she died. He’s choosing to share her story in hopes it saves someone else.
“Tell me what it took from your daughter?” asked News 8’s Jacquie Slater.
“Her dreams. Her youth. She had a strong desire to continue on with school and that will never happen. It took her family away from her. It replaced her family to a degree. It’s scary,” said Northup.
Blumenthal says he is pushing for federal funding to help keep up with the growing demands of the opioid crisis.