State fire chiefs call for immediate action on opioid epidemic

Mystic — Old Mystic Fire Chief Kenneth W. Richards Jr. and his colleagues from across the state have heard enough talk about the opioid epidemic.

The chiefs want action now.

On Monday, the Connecticut Fire Chiefs' Association sent elected officials and officeholders a strongly worded position statement that was approved unanimously by 75 fire chiefs at an Aug. 22 meeting.  

"It's time to stop the committees, stop the talking and take action," Richards said by telephone Monday afternoon. "There's plenty of evidence on the table that this is a problem."

The chiefs are calling for immediate treatment and long term follow-up for those who are addicted. They are urging officials in power to take decisive action to stop the "farmers, synthetic chemists, dealers, traffickers, terrorists, criminals, cartels and distributors" engaged in supplying heroin, fentanyl, carfentanil and other substances.

Richards said overdoses are almost a weekly occurrence for his department and that last year, the department "had the tragedy at the Flagship Inn motel." He was referring to the May 29, 2016, overdose death of 17-year-old Olivia Roark, who had run away from her parents' home in Griswold.

Richards said neighboring communities like New London deal with overdoses on a daily basis and that first responders are increasingly at risk of exposure to highly potent synthetic opioids such as fentanyl and carfentanil.

"The thing that strikes me the most is that over 50,000 people a year die from it (countrywide)," Richards said Monday. "And they're talking 1,000 people could die this year in Connecticut. The only way I can look at it is, if an outside entity came into the U.S. and killed 50,000 of our citizens, we would be up in arms and there would be military action. Law enforcement would be up in arms."

The statement says first responders are saving lives every day, administering Narcan, an opioid reversing drug, intubations and cardiopulmonary resuscitation while putting themselves at risk. They will continue to minister to overdose patients "whenever and wherever called." But they need a meaningful response from public officials and have had enough of "assembling task forces and committees, gathering data, or basking in the media limelight." 

"Stop the cycle by implementing cohesive and outcome driven negotiations, sanctions, U.N. and international cooperatives, diplomatic initiatives, military and Coast Guard interdiction, and finally appropriate use of force and elimination, only as all else fails," says the statement. "Build partnerships of purposeful action and deliberate execution. Once the supply and valueless chain is broken at multiple linkages, demand will drop precipitously, alternate growers and growing sources will get the messages, and impact will finally be charted."

South Windsor Fire Chief Kevin E. Cooney, president of the Connecticut Fire Chiefs Association, could not immediately be reached for comment.

k.florin@theday.com

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