Police launch initiative to combat opioid addiction

Naugatuck Police Chief Steven Hunt speaks during a news conference to announce the launch of the Naugatuck Police Department’s Police Assisted Addiction Recovery Initiative Sept. 3 at the Naugatuck Police Department. The initiative seeks to connect people who overdosed from opioid use or are at risk of overdosing with rehabilitation services. -ELIO GUGLIOTTI

NAUGATUCK — As of Sept. 3, the number of confirmed opioid-related overdose deaths in Naugatuck stood at eight this year — four less than all of 2018 — with another two toxicology reports outstanding.

“The borough of Naugatuck has not been immune to the impact of the opioid addiction in our community,” Naugatuck Deputy Police Chief C. Colin McAllister said.

The Naugatuck Police Department launched a new initiative — Police Assisted Addiction Recovery Initiative (PAARI) — this month. The initiative, which officials announced at a Sept. 3 news conference, is the department’s latest effort to combat opioid addiction. The initiative targets those who have overdosed or are at risk to overdose, but not in a punitive manner.

Through the program, the department will monitor when an officer uses Narcan — a drug used to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. Within two weeks of using Narcan, a detective assigned to the program will coordinate with representatives from local behavioral health agencies to contact the person who overdosed or members of his or her household, and offer to connect them with specialized drug rehabilitation services.

As of Sept. 3, Naugatuck police used Narcan 22 times this year, McAllister said. In 2018, officers used Narcan 46 times, he said.

The department has partnered with several local behavioral health agencies and St. Mary’s Hospital in Waterbury to ensure a recovery coach is available any time of the day. If a person wants to seek treatment, police will introduce the person to a recovery coach, who will then take the lead on treatment.

The initiative doesn’t impact the department’s budget, McAllister said.

“We recognize that it’s only through collaboration and partnership that we can begin to curb the opioid epidemic,” McAllister said. “While this program is unique and untested, we owe it to our community to utilize all of our resources at our disposal to help reverse the surge of opioids in our communities.”

The Waterbury State’s Attorney Office is among the partners in the program. McAllister said recovery coaches will contact the office to let officials know a person is in a recovery program, which will be considered during any potential judicial proceedings.

Waterbury State’s Attorney Maureen Platt said her office is committed to the program.

Waterbury State’s Attorney Maureen Platt speaks during a news conference to announce the launch of the Naugatuck Police Department’s Police Assisted Addiction Recovery Initiative Sept. 3 at the Naugatuck Police Department. The initiative seeks to connect people who overdosed from opioid use or are at risk of overdosing with rehabilitation services. -ELIO GUGLIOTTI

“We must come at this (opioid addiction) from every single angle and treat this with the seriousness that it deserves,” Platt said.

Platt said there’s an early intervention prosecutor that works in her office who reviews cases to see if people would benefit from treatment instead of prosecution.

“I think we can all agree that merely prosecuting people who have addiction services is usually completely futile and just sets up the future for arrest, and frankly may lead to their ultimate demise,” Platt said.

The prevention initiative is part of the police department’s three-pronged approach to fight the opioid epidemic. The department also focuses on education, including bringing back the DARE program in borough schools, and enforcement.

The enforcement aspect is focused on drug dealing. A Naugatuck police officer is assigned to the work with the Drug Enforcement Agency and another officer is assigned to work with the Connecticut State Police’s statewide narcotics task force to target drug distribution.

While the new Police Assisted Addiction Recovery Initiative is intended to help those struggling with opioid addiction, Police Chief Steven Hunt said the department will not be so accommodating to people who sell drugs.

“We’re coming for them and they better keep one eye open,” he said. “Sooner rather than later, they’re going to see us.”