New Haven City Officials Call For State Help In Overdose Crisis

Aug 17, 2018

Over 100 people are now known have overdosed on the New Haven Green since Tuesday night, apparently as a result of using part of a bad batch of the synthetic cannabinoid K2. Officials say that the man-made drug and this particular batch was designed to have a more potent effect on the people who took it—so they could become addicted. 

Dr. Robert Bruce recommended that people avoid synthetic marijuana. He said it can do more permanent damage than the temporary collapses witnessed on the green.

“We’ve seen them cause paranoia, psychosis, and things that can really negatively impact the brain," said Bruce, the chief of medicine for the New Haven area’s Cornell Scott-Hill Health Center. "There’s some things that you can break that nobody can fix. We would encourage people that it’s not worth the risk.”

Bruce's crew has been working on the ground in the wake of the overdoses—setting up a triage unit at the Green. “If people had used and they had fallen down, we could get them up, get them over to a cot, monitor them medically, make sure that they were fine--that they were safe--and then after the use is over in the 30-to-40 minute timeframe, they recover, get up, and go on with their day,” he explained.

The team monitored patients’ respiratory functions and oxygen saturation levels in lieu of administering Narcan. Bruce said while it doesn’t hurt to use Narcan if you suspect an overdose, it just doesn’t work in a non-opioid overdose.

Toni Harp is New Haven’s mayor. She said she’s asked the state’s Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services to help the city combat the K2 problem by making at least two recovery specialists available to work the Green for 12-15 hours a day.

“It’s important that we just don’t give people medicine and expect them to take care of it on their own,” she said.

Harp said that the state has promised to at least provide the city with one “street psychiatrist” who can identify people having difficulty with addiction and can then prescribe medication to address the issue.

Senator Richard Blumenthal addresses the media, flanked by New Haven police officials and city mayor Toni Harp
Credit Frankie Graziano / Connecticut Public Radio

New Haven Police say that even after users overdosed earlier this week, they went back to use the drug again multiple times after being released from the hospital. John O’Reilly is not surprised by that. He’s from New Haven and comes to the Green every day.

“It’s a cheap high," said O'Reilly. "Another thing is, most of these people that are OD’ing on it are on probation or parole, so it doesn’t show up in their urine. So if they enjoy getting high on something like pot, they’re substituting that because it doesn’t show up in their urine.”

Lucy Camacho was sitting on a bench near the Green Friday, waiting for a bus to come. She moved here from Hartford six years ago.  “I came yesterday to the Green and I see people falling down," she said. "It’s hard to see people like that because , for myself, I’m thinking ‘it can be my son or my daughter.’”

Even though this incident has put the spotlight on drug use on the New Haven Green, she says people should remember no area is safe from overdose. “It can happen Hartford, New York, Waterbury, Bridgeport—anywhere,” she said.

That point sparked controversy this week, as Republican State Senate leader Len Fasano criticized city leadership on the overdose crisis. In a statement he said local officials have allowed the Green to deteriorate so badly that it was in “a place of despair.”

Mayor Toni Harp defended the city, saying that the problem relates to New Haven being an center for area drug treatment. She blamed Fasano and members of the Connecticut General Assembly for taking away money from the city that could be used to combat drug addiction.

“We need support from the state," said Harp. "We are a city. Cities only get resources from property taxes. 54 percent of our property are tax exempt. And so, when he takes $9.4 million away from this city, we feel it out here on our streets.” 

New Haven's police department has arrested three people since the initial overdoses. The department’s chief says that none of the K2 users will be charged at this time.