The road to recovery continued on Wednesday afternoon, as New Haven hosted its monthly Overdose Response meeting to discuss the city’s opioid crisis.

The open meeting, co-chaired by Mayor Toni Harp, attracted about 30 people, most of whom represented substance treatment organizations throughout the city and state. Speakers at the meeting, which lasted just over 90 minutes, presented updates on progress being made to tackle the high number of overdoses in New Haven. In addressing the various challenges, the city drew on community members and representatives from various groups to create a cohesive plan.

“It’s wonderful to see that, at every meeting, we have more people coming,” said Miriam Delphin-Rittmon, the Department of Mental Health & Addiction Services commissioner and co-chair of the meeting. “It shows a lot of people want to be involved and help address this issue.”

Harp initially called the meetings to address drug use and overdose in the Elm City. The mayor’s call followed a high-profile incident in August 2018, when dozens of people overdosed en masse on the New Haven Green. In her State of the City address on Monday, the mayor referenced the city’s response to the mass overdose — both in the immediate aftermath and in follow-ups — as a positive representation of New Haven.

Much of the meeting was spent discussing how the community could come up with new plans to support recovering drug users. The Connecticut Community for Addiction Recovery announced they will hire a New Haven Recovery Community Educator. The educator will help anyone seeking treatment understand available resources and operate out of the offices of Musical Intervention, a downtown New Haven organization that encourages drug-free music expression. The groups plan to collaborate on future projects.

“I’ve been open for about three years, working with individuals who are in recovery and struggling with addiction,” said Adam Christoferson, the founder and director of Musical Intervention. “What we want to do is provide a safe, drug and alcohol–free space for people to come and create together.”

One sustained project the committee discussed is training community members to use Narcan. Narcan, a form of the drug naloxone, can reverse opioid overdose in emergency situations if used properly and promptly. The city is working now to get Narcan out “as much as possible,” Delphin-Rittmon said.

Harp also shared notes from a recent meeting she had with the director of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the federal agency responsible for drug abuse treatment. Harp said the director advocated for personalized treatment options, standard payment methods for assistive medication and innovative ways to combat substance abuse.

“I think she [the director] was really impressed with the fact that we have this group, across the care system, working together on this issue,” Harp said at the meeting.

Despite the collaborative efforts in New Haven, the state remains deeply affected by the opioid crisis. In September of 2018, the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner projected that the state was on track for over 1,000 accidental overdoses deaths for 2018. That number has nearly tripled since 2012 when it was 357 deaths.

Members in attendance made suggestions to improve future meetings. Dakibu Muley, the city’s community services administrator, acknowledged that the group was still missing people: those with lived experience of opioid addiction. He said that the demographic has a unique and valuable perspective on drug treatment.

“As administrators and directors, I think we sometimes come up with these comprehensive plans that don’t always necessarily translate well to practice,” Muley said. “It’s important to have those with subject matter expertise — in this specific case, those with lived experience — to figure out the who, what, why, when and how it should be rolled out, as far as implementation.”

The next Overdose Response meeting will take place on March 6.

Angela Xiaoangela.xiao@yale.edu 

Allen Siegler | allen.siegler@yale.edu