New Haven, Connecticut, became what officials called “ground zero” Monday for efforts to shine a light on the dangers of drugs, as President Donald Trump‘s nominee for drug czar visited a city reeling from more than 100 recent overdoses on synthetic marijuana.
Jim Carroll met with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Mayor Toni Harp and first responders to discuss the overdoses, as well as the country’s opioid crisis.
Connecticut officials are setting a national example for getting people into treatment for drug addiction, Carroll said, and he praised local paramedics, police and firefighters for their response to the overdoses last week.
“In an incident like this when there is an emergency, you don’t call D.C., you don’t call an 800 number to an office for the federal government,” he said. “You call 911, and that’s the first responders that are here in the room. And that’s who we need to support.”
Authorities responded to more than 100 overdoses from synthetic marijuana on Wednesday and Thursday, mostly on the New Haven Green, a historic downtown park next to Yale University. No deaths were reported.
Police said Monday that 47 people overdosed, including some who were brought to hospitals multiple times after consuming the drug again once treated. Many of the people who fell ill were in treatment for addiction to other drugs, officials said.
First responders described a chaotic scene of people collapsing unconscious at the same time, and others vomiting and becoming disoriented.
Officials blamed a potent batch of K2, also known as spice, and three people were arrested in the investigation of the overdoses. Police said Monday that samples of the drug tested postive for AB Fubinaca, a synthethic cannabinoid that has sickened people across the country.
Drug addiction killed about 72,000 people in the U.S. last year, which is about 200 people a day, said Carroll, deputy director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy and Trump’s nominee to lead the office. A majority of those deaths were related to opioids.
The Trump administration, he said, is fighting the problem on three fronts — prevention and education, treatment and law enforcement efforts aimed at keeping drugs from getting into the country. For example, he said, the federal government supports drug-free community education programs across the country, including 24 in Connecticut.
“Together with our state and local partners, we are determined to address this crisis effectively through prevention, treatment and recovery and law enforcement in order to save lives,” Carroll said.
Blumenthal urged Congress to pass several bills now on the floor that are aimed at addiction and overdoses.
“The New Haven Green has crystalized awareness in the Congress,” the Connecticut Democrat said. “For this centuries-old, historic setting to be the new ground zero for fighting substance abuse disorder is remarkable and truly game changing in the fight against addiction.”
Harp, New Haven’s mayor, said first responders are on the front lines of drug addiction every day and prepare regularly to respond to different kinds of emergencies. Funding for them is critical, she said.
“The fact that we have been prepared, that we’ve worked on it year after year and that this collaboration is not new is what meant that every person who dropped on our Green we responded to within a minute to 2 minutes,” she said. “Every person got the service that they needed. We did not lose one life and for that I am eternally grateful.”