The New Haven Green was overrun with police officers, firefighters and EMTs racing to help the dozens of New Haven residents vomiting, convulsing or passed out on the grass on Aug. 16. By the end of the day, more than 100 people had overdosed on synthetic marijuana — also known as K2 — in New Haven, most of them within the 16-acre confines of the Green.

“This is the highest number of victims in the shortest amount of time” in the city’s memory, New Haven Fire Chief John Alston told reporters at the scene, describing how emergency workers consistently received calls about a new victim while they were still aiding previous patients. At one point in the day, first responders treated nine victims in an hour.

Although all those overdose victims were treated successfully that day, city officials are looking to ensure that such treatment is not necessary in the future. Since the incident, Mayor Toni Harp has spoken with Gov. Dannel Malloy and with various state agencies, including the Connecticut Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services about the K2 issue, according to mayoral spokesman Laurence Grotheer.

Harp also hopes to secure funding for several of the city’s nonprofit partners, including the Cornell Scott Hill Health Center and Columbus House, both of which provide services to drug users in New Haven, Grotheer said.

Because the Elm City is home to so many clinics and shelters, a large number of Connecticut residents who struggle with addiction and drug use come to New Haven, which in turn causes many drug dealers to come to the city. This is true for other cities in the state as well, Grotheer said.

This “vicious cycle” means that cities like New Haven need to devote disproportionate resources and funding to programs for drug users, Grotheer continued. As a result, Harp has requested more funding from the state and federal government for clinics and shelters.

Meanwhile, Ward 1 Alder Hacibey Catalbasoglu has proposed another solution to prevent future overdoses: the legalization of marijuana.

“It’s very simple: the black market for marijuana is dangerous and unregulated,” Catalbasoglu said in an email. “Regulating marijuana would effectively destroy this market.”

The mayor has not commented on this proposal.

Although City Hall hopes to institute new measures to prevent overdoses in the future, officials expressed relief that the scope of the incident earlier this month was limited.

In spite of the high number of overdoses, there were no fatalities. Grotheer commended the New Haven Police Department, the New Haven Fire Department and Emergency Medical Services for their “coordinated effort” in treating patients, which included the construction of a temporary command center on the Green.

“No one was left unaccompanied for longer than two minutes after they [overdosed],” Catalbasoglu wrote. “Additionally, no one died, which is a testament to the hard work of [our] first responders and the fire and police departments.”

The Human Services Committee of the Board of Alders will host a public meeting on Sept. 12 to address drug addiction.

Nathalie Bussemaker |