Police chief: New Milford gaining control of heroin epidemic
NEW MILFORD — A town rocked by more than a dozen opiate-related overdose deaths in the past three years has made significant strides to control the growing national problem, Police Chief Shawn Boyne said.
“We’re identifying local traffickers with our K-9 unit, patrols and partnership with the Statewide Narcotics Task Force,” Boyne told the Town Council Monday. “We’re not seeing a high level of street-level sales. The numbers we have for overdoses and arrests compared to other communities indicate New Milford is very safe and I’m confident our efforts are good.”
The medication drop box at the police station has collected more than 300 pounds of prescription drugs since May. The town’s medic has been trained to use the overdose-reversal drug, Narcan. New Milford police officers do not carry Narcan kits and have not been trained to use it since the medic is on 24/7 and responds to all overdose calls.
There have been two opiate-related deaths in New Milford this year after four people died of overdoses in 2014. In 2013, eight people died of opiate overdoses, including four where heroin was a factor, according to data provided by the state’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.
New Milford’s problem is one shared by the state and the entire country, as was shown by the high-profile overdose death last year of Oscar-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman.
In Connecticut, heroin-related deaths skyrocketed from 174 in 2012 to 325 in 2014, according to a report by the state medical examiner. Nationwide, heroin-related deaths nearly tripled from 2002 to 2013, according to the federal National Vital Statistics System.
Boyne said there is a national “opioid epidemic,” particularly in the Northeast. There is a rise in the use of opioid pain medications and other gateway drugs to heroin, he said. The CDC advisory panel has recently recommended opioids for 11-year-olds, Boyne added.
Connecticut doesn’t have “the luxury of free clinics,” he said. Boyne and Mayor Pat Murphy recently dialed 211, the state emergency number to connect with drug rehabilitation services to see what response those in need of help receive.
They waited 20 minutes, he said, and the first question they were asked was: “Do you have insurance?”
“President Obama authorized $2.5 million in August for projects directed at targeting the high traffic areas in New England,” Boyne said. “People who supply heroin to others who overdose and die are getting 12- and 15-year sentences. But the governor has to get involved from the social perspective to address the epidemic we are facing.”
Boyne pointed to a police chief in Gloucester, Mass., who has created “Project Anchor” where heroin users who enter the system are connected with the local hospital’s behavioral health team. Boyne said he is talking with the administration of New Milford Hospital to see what is available locally for a similar project.
The New Milford Substance Abuse Prevention Council partnered with the New Milford Youth Agency to produce a video on gateway drugs to heroin use and what families can do to help those in crisis. The video will be aired on the community cable channel and posted on social media. Boyne hopes to also have the video shown at The Bank Street Theater.
“We’ve got to get people to realize that this is a problem that starts before heroin,” said Sgt. Jim Dzamko, who sits on the town’s Substance Abuse Prevention Council. “People need to get help at home at the time when they’re consuming large amounts of marijuana and alcohol before they get to taking opioids and heroin.”
Boyne and others plan to continue to raise awareness of the issue with “If you see something, say something” bumper stickers available in businesses around town and in the library and a billboard being installed on Sullivan Road. Boyne is also trying to have CVS and other pharmacies set up medicine drop boxes in their stores.