Emergency crews, volunteers try to make sense of mass ODs
By Jessica Lerner
Updated 4:38 pm EDT, Saturday, August 18, 2018
NEW HAVEN, Conn. — Things seemed to have returned to status quo, more or less, on the city Green Saturday, following the massive K2 overdoses that plagued the city for several days.
Emergency personnel were pushed to their limits during a 72-hour period, as they responded to more than 100 overdoses since Tuesday night.
New Haven police Lt. Karl Jacobson, who heads the department’s intelligence and narcotics division, said during a press conference Friday city officials determined that 47 individuals were treated at least once for an overdose. Some individuals were treated multiple times for overdosing, resulting in roughly 120 separate ambulance calls.
City Office of Emergency Management Director Rick Fontana said things started to calm down around 10 p.m. Thursday, when the men allegedly responsible for the sale of the tainted K2 were placed in custody.
Felix Ayala Melendez, 37, and John Parker, 53, both of New Haven, have been arrested in connection with the overdoses. Police Chief Anthony Campbell said during the press conference Friday that Melendez, whom police had arrested in February on drug charges, has been charged with possession of a controlled substance. Parker is facing state drug charges as well as a federal narcotics charge.
A third man, believed to be a distributor of the bad batch of K2, has also been arrested on a federal search warrant. The man, who has not been publicly identified, is being held on federal drug charges, Campbell said.
Campbell said Saturday there have also been some reported heroin overdoses, as those individuals that were looking for K2 weren’t able to get it, so they resorted back to the drug that was easier to get.
Since 12 a.m. Saturday, Fontana said there have been six K2 overdoses — four of which happened around the Green — noting that these synthetic cannabinoid overdoses may not be the same K2 from earlier in the week.
“We’re really back to what we call ‘normalcy,’” Fontana said.
However, “normalcy” doesn’t mean emergency crews stop responding to the Green. Fontana said emergency personnel respond to around 2,000 reported overdoses on the Green every year, but not all of them “pan out.”
A Torrington resident named Rob said Saturday, as he was coming out the library, he saw a man, unresponsive, lying on his side. Rob said he started asking if anyone had called for an ambulance, but the man’s friend said he hadn’t.
“I said to [the friend], ‘You need to call an ambulance,’” Rob said. “But he just said, ‘Everything’s all good.’”
Rob said the friend scooped the man off the sidewalk, and they both started walking away. Ignoring the friend’s wishes, Rob said he tried to call 911, but his cellphone was dead. When the ambulance showed up several minutes later, sirens flashing, Rob said the man was gone.
Jacobson and Assistant Police Chief Herb Johnson said Friday that trying to stop drug dealing on the Green presents a difficult set of challenges, though recent events have led to an increased police presence in the area.
A man who identified himself only as Danny said he’s very familiar with the people who frequent the Green, as he walks through it every day with his dog on his way to a nearby methadone clinic. Danny said he understands addiction, having become addicted to pain killers after a car accident a few years ago, but he can’t seem to make sense of the past few days.
“I just don’t get it. I don’t get why you would want to let yourself go that far. I’m an addict, and I knew I had to go get help. You’re not going to get better unless you want to,” he said.
Danny said the Green is a lot more “hectic” this weekend. He said there are individuals looking to score K2 and officers patrolling the area. “I understand the cops and EMTs got to do what they got to do, but there isn’t anything they can do to stop it.”
However, the increase in officers hasn’t been to everyone’s benefit. Angelina Carney said she was meeting her mom on the Green, when she saw her pregnant friend’s boyfriend getting arrested.
Carney alleged the police arrested the boyfriend because he had a prescription bottle for medication without the label on it. “It has nothing to do with what’s been going on or anything like that,” Carney said.
While she doesn’t blame the officers for checking everyone’s IDs after the mass overdoses, she said it’s still an unfortunate situation, something that she could have just as easily found herself in.
“I do the same thing. I rip the labels off my bottles. It’s something I do. I don’t want people knowing my information,” Carney said.
The overdoses have drawn international attention, as city, state and federal officials, and as well as community leaders, attempt to address the issues that are part of a national drug addiction problem.
In the basement of the Trinity Episcopal Church on the Green, 25 people sat around a round table, brainstorming ideas on how to help members of the community who struggle with addiction.
Rev. Luk De Volder said this past week highlighted the fact that Trinity is, often times, on the frontline of these situations.
“There is a need for counseling, a need for community among the people struggling with addiction, a need for more coordination among the victim services who are not always aware of what is going on, so people are being sent from one place to another, often returned without follow-up,” he said,
De Volder said some of the conversation revolved around the stigma associated with addiction. “There’s a real need to humanize the understanding about the background of people and what they’re struggling with,” he said.
Pastors Marc and Ana Reyes, of the Good Shepherd Ministries in West Haven, also stood on the Green, talking to passersby and handing out pamphlets.
Marc Reyes said, while their church is in West Haven, he was born and raised in New Haven. Having grown up in the city, he said, he understands the needs and challenges the members of the community faces.
“Today, we’re just reaching out to the homeless, just bringing out hope to them, giving them out hope, letting them know the love of God is real, and life is better than where they’re at ... now,” Marc Reyes said.
Ana Reyes said the church also has a group that will come out to the Green “every so often” to distribute food and personal items like shampoo, conditioner and toothpaste to the homeless. In the winter, she said the group brings blankets and hot chocolate.
Along with inviting people to their church and offering a message of hope, the Reyeses said they are also attempting to help in other, nonspiritual ways. Ana Reyes said around 11 a.m., she was trying to convince a man to seek treatment, after the man admitted he needs help.
“We’re just trying to reach out,” Ana Reyes said. “That’s what we’re called to do.”