Norwich – Overdose deaths fell in Norwich in 2021, but early experiences for 2022 have emergency responders worried, highlighting the importance of an award-winning collaboration between the city’s police and Reliance Health, a local health agency mental and drug addiction treatment.
local police, Addiction Health The partners and U.S. Representative Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, discussed on Tuesday how the program works and the critical federal funding recently secured to expand the program and sustain it for at least another year.
The city had 35 overdose deaths in 2020, said Michael Doyle, director of Reliance Health’s recovery coaching program. The number fell to 26 in 2021. But he said there were already 14 this year, seven in February alone. By this time last year, he said, there had been nine overdose deaths in the city.
The growing presence of the deadly synthetic opioid fentanyl, which is now beginning to appear in pill form, is the main culprit, Doyle said.
The Norwich Recovery Program, launched in January 2020, is a collaboration between the city’s police and Reliance Health. Norwich Police are responding to overdose calls across the city, and part of that includes gathering information from victims and their family members. If possible, a Reliance Health substance recovery coach can accompany the police during the “live” response. If not, the police provide the information to Reliance Health and a recovery coach contacts the family to offer support.
If the person is ready, support could come in the form of help getting treatment, recovery coach Deanna Delaney said Tuesday. Often it starts with an offer to have a cup of coffee and chat about family, work, or whatever, as often as the person wants, just to keep communication open, Delaney said.
Reliance Health is located in downtown Norwich, with programs at 2 Cliff St. and head office at 40 Broadway. For anyone in crisis, the agency’s mobile number is (860) 886-9302.
The Norwich Recovery Program received the Eastern Connecticut Chamber of Commerce Collaboration Award in December. Reliance Health hired two recovery coaches for the program using a previous state overdose recovery grant. Courtney recently announced that Reliance Health will receive $125,000 this federal fiscal year to hire two additional recovery coaches. The money comes from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Unit of the US Department of Health and Human Services.
Separately, Norwich Police will receive $700,000 for a much-needed upgrade to the police and fire department’s computer-aided dispatch system. Police Lieutenant John Perry said the upgrade will help improve Norwich’s recovery program by improving the collection of emergency call data.
The upgrade will include what Perry called better transparency for the public, with an online map to track crime incidents across the city. Residents with doorbell cameras will be able to register and share their video recordings with police, he said.
Delaney and Doyle said a key ingredient that has helped reduce overdose deaths is the widespread distribution of the overdose-reversing drug naloxone, known under the brand name Narcan. Reliance Health recommends that all households have naloxone doses on hand, as overdoses can happen anywhere, whether on the street or at home.
Many households have the overdose drug on hand, Doyle said, and the more Narcan in a community, the better.
“When someone asks, ‘Do you need Narcan?'” he said, “The answer will always be ‘yes.’ Never say ‘no’ to Narcan.”