Norwich City Council hears how addiction, overdose deaths hit families

Norwich Mayor Peter Nystrom views the region's memorial quilt crafted by family members who have lost loved ones to overdoses during the Norwich Youth and Family Services bureau presentation to the Norwich City Council on the opioid crisis Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2018.  (Claire Bessette/The Day)
Norwich Mayor Peter Nystrom views the region's memorial quilt crafted by family members who have lost loved ones to overdoses during the Norwich Youth and Family Services bureau presentation to the Norwich City Council on the opioid crisis Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2018. (Claire Bessette/The Day)

Norwich — In 36 days, it will be two years since Michael Brandon died of a fentanyl overdose, and his mother, Kathy Brandon, still is looking for answers.

Brandon, of Norwich, was among several parents who spoke to the Norwich City Council on Tuesday during an informational meeting on the opioid crisis and efforts underway to stem the tide of overdoses overwhelming the city and human services agencies.

“I want to introduce you to my son, Mike,” Brandon said, carrying an urn of her son’s ashes. Michael Brandon was 27 when he died. He told her many times that he could not stay clean in Norwich and had planned to move to Florida. But four days before his planned move, his mother found him dead in their Norwich home.

“I want to know why he couldn’t stay clean in Norwich,” Brandon said.

She said she never got answers from Norwich police after his death. She wanted to know why there are so many drug dealers in Norwich that a recovering addict cannot stay clean. She wanted answers, too, on why her son lost his place in the Liberty House recovery house in Norwich, because the house was obligated to take in court placements.

Norwich Human Services Director Lee Ann Gomes said Norwich ranks third in the state in overdose deaths. The city had 14 overdose deaths in 2015. The number jumped to 23 in 2016, but in the first half of 2017 alone, 19 people died of overdoses, with a projection to reach 38 by the end of the year last month, Gomes said.

She said city and regional leaders are trying to determine why Norwich ranks so high in the state, and one theory is that there is a “direct drug line from Hartford to Norwich.”

In response to the crisis, Norwich applied for and received a Partnership for Success grant totaling $138,000 per year for three years, possibly four, to address addiction prevention efforts. The grant thus far has funded two positions, a coordinator and a peer advocate, and a coalition of health, human services and emergency response agencies have formed a task force to address the problem.

The group will host a community educational forum and will survey youths and college students on drug use issues. Billboards have been erected throughout the city, and the group has launched the website www.norwichunhooked.org, which includes information about treatment and prevention measures. Gomes said the task force keeps a tally of treatment beds available in the region.

Gomes said the task force also is working to map the overdose deaths in Norwich using a GIS mapping system.

Tuesday’s presentation included the display of a quilt comprising 36 squares crafted by family members in memory of loved ones lost to addiction.

“I want to extend my sincere condolences to all families who’ve lost someone to this disease,” Alderwoman Joanne Philbrick said. “And make no mistake, it is a disease.”

Philbrick said she recently learned her nephew has become “part of this community” of addiction. Philbrick then asked Mayor Peter Nystrom to suspend the council meeting for 15 minutes to give aldermen time to talk directly to the families and to view the quilt.

The City Council issued a proclamation declaring Tuesday a “Day of Remembrance” for people lost to addiction.

Two of the squares on the quilt were crafted by Jeanne Clark of Noank. Her two sons Chase Clark, 32, and Christopher Clark, 26, both died of overdoses. The brothers grew up in Preston before the family moved to Noank.

Christopher Clark died on Feb. 29, 2008, after a “social weekend of partying,” his mother said. He and his friends had used Oxycontin and they couldn’t get it anymore, she said. “Someone said heroin is the same.”

Christopher introduced his brother to heroin, their mother said. Chase had suffered from anxiety and was managing it while he attended and graduated from Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston with a degree in construction management. Chase died of a fentanyl overdose April 26, 2016.

Jeanne Clark said she kept the journals her sons wrote and recalled the many passages when they vowed to kick the addiction and become clean. “This is the last week,” they wrote many times, she said.

c.bessette@theday.com

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