The Human Service Committee of the New Haven Board of Alders plans to join forces with the New Haven Police Department, community centers, rehabilitation facilities and local residents to combat the rampant opioid crisis by holding a public hearing in the upcoming month.
The initiative, proposed by the Human Service Committee, comes weeks after the presidentially decreed Prescription Opioid and Heroin Epidemic Awareness Week from Sept. 18 to 24. In a press release at the beginning of that week, President Barack Obama called on the nation to reaffirm its will to address opioid abuse nationwide.
“Opioid use disorder, or addiction to prescription opioids or heroin, is a disease that touches too many of our communities — big and small, urban and rural — and devastates families, all while straining the capacity of law enforcement and the health care system,” Obama said in the release.
Even in the context of a nationwide substance abuse problem, New Haven has seen its fair share of opioid-induced tragedies. Most recently, on Jun. 23, residents witnessed firsthand the critical consequences of the drug; that night, the city saw 17 overdose cases, three of which resulted in deaths. According to U.S. Attorney for the District of Connecticut Deirdre Daly, all 17 incidents were caused by cocaine laced with fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is 50 times stronger than heroin.
Ward 27 Alder and Chair of the Human Service Committee Richard Furlow, who is spearheading the effort, is striving to bring all parties of the city together to discuss how to best combat the overwhelming drug abuse issue. He explained that he is planning a public hearing, rather than a closed-door workshop, so that members of the public can share their opinions.
Concerned parents and former addicts with a history of being incarcerated have reached out to him interested in giving testimonies at the upcoming hearing, Furlow added.
He said that he is interested in hearing from city and health professionals on the current treatment of addicts once they are arrested and jailed as well as any advice they might have to help minimize “this horrible situation that we have throughout our city.”
“Are [the addicts] just in jail for a few days and then released back? Are they recommended to a program?” Furlow said. “We are interested in the next steps.”
Daly, who said she is interested in participating in the public hearing, highlighted the dire situation the public faces, citing the state medical examiner’s prediction that 900 Connecticut residents will die from overdose in 2016 alone. Placing blame on fentanyl, Daly cautioned citizens against using the drug unless the situation was “absolutely necessary.”
Fentanyl addiction often originates from simple medical prescriptions, Daly said, noting an increase in how frequently doctors are prescribing the highly addictive drug.
Daly said that leftover fentanyl, which is often used to treat medical conditions such as sports injuries or dental surgeries, can quickly become a supply source later. Her office is urging residents to discard the opioids they might have at home, she said.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office, as a law enforcement agency, has been pursuing traditional methods along with new initiatives to tackle the substance abuse problem in the state. Other than seizing illegal substances, Daly’s office teamed up with police departments throughout the state to treat overdose cases as crime scenes. This method allows law enforcement officials to take lethal drugs off the streets by rooting out drug distributors and suppliers.
“The opioid epidemic is everywhere in Connecticut,” Daly said. “We cannot arrest ourselves out of this problem. It requires really diligent and focused attention on prevention and treatment.”
According to Daly, four out of five new heroine addicts across the nation started as opiate users.