Connecticut fire chiefs call for immediate action on opioid epidemic

Connecticut fire chiefs call for immediate action on opioid epidemic

The Westerly Sun

Old Mystic Fire Chief Kenneth Richards Jr. and members of the Connecticut Fire Chiefs Association have joined together to send a clear message to lawmakers regarding the opioid epidemic: We’ve had enough talk, it’s time for action.

In a position statement sent to the state and federal officials this week on behalf of the association, members expressed strong concerns over legislative roadblocks and a lack of government action that has allowed the epidemic to continue to grow nationwide. The organization is calling for an immediate action plan that includes enhancing state and federal laws for those caught dealing dangerous narcotics, and improving recovery options for those suffering from addiction.

“In doing our research, we found that an estimated 50,000 U.S. citizens will die this year as a result of opioid and heroin overdoses including nearly 1,000 in Connecticut alone,” Richards said on Thursday. “If this were another country causing all these citizens to die, the government would have taken military action already. It’s time to treat this epidemic with the same concern.”

Richards, a past president of the Connecticut Fire Chiefs Association, said the organization is seeking to have a seat at the table in future discussions, noting that area first responders have become experts as a result of the growing number of drug overdoses in communities throughout the state.

But right now, he wants immediate action — and so does the Connecticut Fire Chiefs Association.

The position statement identifies first responders including firefighters and EMS personnel as the front line response to the epidemic, crediting responders for their work in saving lives daily. It criticizes the constant use of committees and data gathering as ineffective and slow. While the additional research is conducted, the association warns that people are continuing to die in record numbers.

“This is not the time for talk, assembling task forces and committees, gathering data, or basking in the media limelight,” the statement reads, directly addressing legislators. “We call on you all to not just stand there, but do something, as we do. Stop the cycle by implementing cohesive and outcome-driven negotiations, sanctions, UN and international cooperatives, diplomatic initiatives, military and Coast Guard interdiction, and finally appropriate use of force and elimination, only if all else fails.”

Messages left with South Windsor Fire Chief Kevin E. Cooney, who delivered the statement to officials as president of the association, were not returned.

In the Old Mystic area, town officials have responded to five confirmed opioid-related overdoses in the past four months. Richards said that number pales in comparison to what has been seen in Groton, which has reported calls on at least a weekly basis, and New London, where officials have previously expressed concerns regarding several spikes in opioid-related overdoses in 2016 and now respond to overdoses nearly daily.

On a state level, data suggests that Connecticut overdose deaths have spiked in recent years. State officials reported that from 2014 to 2015, there was a 25.6 percent increase in the number of drug overdose deaths, according to data available through the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those numbers have also continued to grow over the past two years, officials indicated.

Furthermore, those numbers are a concern in surrounding states as well, with Rhode Island seeing a 20.5 percent spike in deaths over the same time period, New York reporting a 20.4 percent increase and Massachusetts reporting a 35.3 percent rise over the same time period. In addition, Rhode Island now ranks in the top five nationwide in overdose deaths per capita with 28.2 confirmed overdose deaths per 100,000, data indicates.

Richards said if the state continues to sit idle, he worries that first responders throughout Connecticut will find themselves unable to provide appropriate assistance to meet the growing need.

“It’s time for us to push hard. We need to take a strong stance in order to be at the forefront of this and make effectual changes,” Richards said.

In closing the statement, the association also promises to never waiver in the fight and to remain committed to doing what is best for Connecticut’s communities, the state and country as a whole.

“Our duty, honor, country, and global patients and partners deserve nothing less. The end of addiction movement starts in Connecticut,” the statement reads. “We know how to put out this firestorm of destruction and human wreckage. Join with us.”


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