Drugs and Substance Abuse and Treatment in New Haven, Connecticut
The New Haven Way
New Haven was America’s first planned city, founded by Puritans in 1638. As one can imagine, the town is steeped in history and tradition and filled with gorgeous old architecture. The famous ivy league university, Yale, essential to New Haven’s economy, has granted New Haven an intellectual ambience, and the presence of wonderful museums, theatres, music venues and art galleries has allowed the city to call itself the “Cultural Capital of Connecticut.” The fact that New Haven hosted the first public tree planting in the United States also earned it the name “The Elm City.”
This coastal town is located on the northern shore of Long Island Sound and forms part of the New York Metropolitan area. The population is now just over 130,000. For such a sophisticated-looking city the education level is average, and it’s even more surprising that the median annual household income is almost $17,000 less than the national average.
More than twice the percentage of people per capita than the national average live below the poverty line. In 2016 the state labor department reported that New Haven had an unemployment rate of 7.1 percent. In January of this year it was reported as 6.1 percent, still higher than most other towns in Connecticut and higher than the national average unemployment rate of 4.1 percent. Yale continues to be the town’s main employer, but loss of other employers has left some residents in the lurch waiting as new business promise to establish nearby and provide new jobs.
Lower median incomes are usually correlated with a higher percentage of overdose deaths, which may explain in part why New Haven is one of the three cities (the others are Hartford and Newbury) with the most overdose deaths in the state since 2012.
A Brief History of the Drug Trade in New Haven
New Haven was a peaceful, relatively drug free town until the mid seventies when drug dealers began moving in and setting up shop, and it’s now designated a High Density Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA). Connecticut’s location—between New York City and Boston—makes it an ideal drop-off and distribution center for illegal drugs. The town’s wholesome façade is now blighted by vacant houses and the site of teenagers peddling drugs.
Connecticut’s number of accidental overdose deaths went from 355 in 2012 to 355 (290 involving heroin) in 2015. The largest number of heroin deaths occurred in New Haven County, where many people from the suburbs and even nearby Waterbury come to buy heroin.
As in the rest of the country, heroin quickly moved in to fill the gap left when the law began cracking down on indiscriminate opioid prescriptions, reducing the amount of the painkillers that could be available for illicit use and compelling addicts to seek cheaper alternatives on the street.
(Dr. Daniel Tobin, an assistant professor of medicine at Yale, points out that most opioid prescribers are general practitioners, not pain specialists. He says that pain relief via drugs alone is not sustainable, as patients develop tolerance for dosages, which must then be increased, putting the patient at risk for dependence, or worse.)
The National Survey on Drug Use puts Connecticut among the top 10 states for dependence on illegal drugs for people aged 18 to 24. Heroin is now the most abused drug, where once it was cocaine. In 2015 522 people died from drug overdoses, and they were aged 17 to 72, surpassing the national average for drug overdose deaths.
Treatment, especially the long-term treatments necessary to full recovery for substance abuse, are expensive. Unfortunately the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services is finding its budget cut just as the need is rising. This is forcing service providers to come up with creative ways of handling the crisis.
Drug Addiction in New Haven
In the years 2012 and 2013 in Connecticut 7 percent of those 12 and older abused alcohol, and 2.7 percent abused drugs. Only 6 percent of those with an alcohol dependency received addiction treatment. 20.5 percent of those dependent on drugs received treatment.
Substance abuse disorders are now seen as mental health disorders because of the progressive control of the substance over the individual and because of the increasingly devastating consequences to the individual’s life. New treatment methods seek to remove the sense of shame and stigma that sabotage to success of any rehabilitation program.
Following a national trend, in 2013 deaths and injuries from alcohol abuse have risen sharply in Connecticut. Alcohol-induced deaths went up by 58 percent from 2009 to 2013, putting the state’s drinking rate above the national average.
The largest increases were greater among women drinkers, whose raters of binge drinking rose to slightly higher than the national average. The binge drinking rate of Connecticut men is 25.4, and although it hasn’t risen much it may be because the binge drinking rate for Connecticut men has long been far above the average for the country.
Binge drinking is dangerous, putting people at risk of injury to themselves and to others, and has serious implications for physical health as well.
Fentanyl continues to be a serious problem in Connecticut. In the last six years Connecticut’s Chief Medical Examiner registered more than 1,000 Fentanyl overdose deaths. Fentanyl is an opioid painkiller that’s much more powerful than heroin, and it’s often manufactured illegally and mixed with other drugs, usually heroin, with lethal results.
Recreational marijuana has yet to be legalized in Connecticut; the jury is still out on how and if sales and consumption can be regulated with present law enforcement resources. Opponents of legalization hope that lawmakers won’t be swayed by the probability of reduced law enforcement costs and increased revenue from taxes on marijuana sales.
As for medical marijuana, since 2012 those with certain medical conditions can register to purchase the drug at legal dispensaries if they can show a prescription from a registered physician. Compassionate-care programs help those who can’t afford the $200 to $1,000 a month price tag.
The Long Shadow of Gang Activity in New Haven
It’s hard to imagine such a tranquil setting being a hotbed of gang activity, but it’s been speculated that communities that pride themselves on being civil and wholesome sometimes remain in denial about the presence of gangs in their midst—until the problem becomes so deeply entrenched that it’s very difficult to uproot it.
In 2017 a long investigation of 40 unsolved shootings in Hamden and New Haven between 2015 and 2016 resulted in alleged members and associates of the the New Haven gang called the Goodrich Street Boys (“GSB”) being charged with attempted murder, drug and firearm trafficking, and federal racketeering. GSB had been found to have allied with the Fruit Town Piru, part of the infamous Bloods gang, to defend its territory against another street gang alliance. The drugs they’ve distributed include cocaine, marijuana, and heroin.
(This rather disquieting information belies the fact that the murder rate in New Haven has been dropping. Apparently the few murders that now take place are carried out by a tiny drug-centered minority of the city’s denizens and in no way represents the social climate there.)
Gangs in the U.S.
The musical West Side Story shows a 1950s New York city when gangs carried out a rule of terror, on opposing gangs and on ordinary citizens. That period ended, it’s said, with changing social conditions, and is now thought to be a thing of the past. But in the late eighties gang activity exploded across the country, especially in New England. Gangs often form along racial lines and commit racist acts and other forms of violence against opposing gangs and their affiliates.
Members are usually between the ages of 14 and 18. Those younger are called “baby gangsters” and are, sadly, the ones most likely to commit acts of violence because they’re easily persuaded and don’t face the same legal penalties as older gang members.
A major source of financial support for gangs is the organized manufacture, smuggling, and sales of narcotics. Gangs can have a corrosive effect on justice by intimidating witnesses and juries
Murder at the Methadone Clinic
There are over 24 methadone clinics in the state, and five of these can be found in New Haven. The need for such same-day clinics is urgent, according to experts who say that someone who decides to get clean of a drug normally has 72 hours before the addictive cravings prove overwhelming.
Clinics also offer daily group counseling. Around 80 percent of participants remain in treatment for 90 days. The APT Foundation clinic also draws recovering addicts from other regions. Critics say that the proliferation of people loitering around the clinic and camping nearby are vulnerable targets for local drug dealers. Police are often posted nearby to keep an eye on things.
In October of 2017 a murder took place in broad daylight at a controversial APT Foundation methadone clinic on Congress Avenue. Police as well as parents of young children who attend a nearby school had long expressed concern regarding the large number of recovering opioid addicts who regularly gathered outside the clinic and the larger than normal number of homeless individuals camping out on the Green. But those who use the clinic often credit it for saving their lives.
It’s against the law to make, distribute, sell, mix, or transport any controlled substance with an intent to sell or distribute, and the punishment can be up to seven years in prison for a first offense, or even life in prison in the case where the heroin, cocaine, or methadone you’ve sold or given away causes death.
Legal penalties for drug possessions and sales in Connecticut have grown a little stronger in the last 20 years in response to the rising problem, and laws here are now stricter than those in neighboring states. One example is stiffening the penalty not only for dealing near schools or housing projects but also for owning or selling drugs within 1,500 feet of a licensed day care center. Lawmakers want to extend this prohibition to youth centers.
Legislation has also been introduced to hold drug dealers liable for the harm their drugs to to users.
Drug Courts in New Haven
New Haven hosts one of the two drug courts now operating in Connecticut. Drug courts form part of the regular justice system but in drug courts cases are handled separately. The point is to help adults recover from the addictions that compel them to keep re-entering the penal system.
It works like this: A first-time offender is offered a choice between being sentenced in a normal court or undergoing recovery treatment on an inpatient or outpatient basis. If the offender chooses the latter they must submit to the requirements of whatever recovery program they enter or be returned to conventional sentencing.
They must also agree to remain clean and sober for the duration of the treatment and accept being tested periodically for drug use.
The program appears to be an unqualified success: Records show that none of the nearly 50 percent of offenders who’ve successfully completed the the New Haven Drug Court program were rearrested later.
The Double Stigma of Dual Diagnoses
Addiction can often be found to co-occur with psychiatric conditions like schizophrenia, depression, and severe anxiety. Whereas the stigma against mental illness may be rooted in a fear of the unknown and unpredictable, stigma against addiction comes as a result of a uneducated belief in the moral failure of the addict. This double stigma has long kept sufferers from getting the help they needed.
What’s being done?
- Because of an initiative begun at the level of the U.S. attorney’s office, New Haven sites where drug overdoses are suspected are now treated not just as medical emergencies by first responders but also as crime scenes. This move has allowed law enforcement to make many more arrests, because every suspected overdose automatically launched an investigation.
- The state has also adopted the four points of the national framework “Epidemic: Responding to America’s Prescription Drug Crisis”:
- Safe disposal of unused and unneeded medications
- Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMPs)
- Increasing law enforcement
- Educating teachers and parents
- The opioid-antagonist drug Naloxone (or Narcan) is now widely available as a nasal spray, and lawmakers, educators, medical personnel and ordinary citizens are being trained in how to administer it. Naloxone blocks opioids like heroin, oxycodone, fentanyl, and codeine from effecting the brain’s neural receptors and thus can stop an overdose in its tracks. For this reason they want to get the drug into as many hands as possible.
- Community-based initiatives in the form of drug abuse prevention coalitions receive federal funding to curb drug use.
- Federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies are now joined in the New Haven Drug Gang Task Force, which deals specifically with taking apart criminal networks and stopping their activities. They’ve so far managed to squelch the actions of the crime networks that were bringing in millions of dollars in cocaine and heroin. The drugs had been supplied by a Colombian cartel, one of main distributors being a West Haven resident, Arquimedez Ramires, who’d once set up a local soccer program in order to, as he told reporters, help keep children off drugs.
- There are now at least eight needle exchanges in Connecticut, and one of them is located in New Haven. Such initiatives go far in preventing the spread of HIV and Hepatitis C.
New Haven Addiction Recovery Resources
New Haven treatment centers provide special programs for teens, men, women, those with dual diagnoses of addiction and mental health issues, those suffering from trauma, and for many other special groups.
Cognitive behavioral therapy has had good results in treatment but unfortunately there aren’t enough therapists trained to meet the demand. In response to the need the Yale School of Medicine has developed a computer-based program to administer cognitive behavioral therapy. Tests have found the program effective for those on methadone maintenance programs.
The types of therapy that can be accessed include person-centered, trauma focused, humanistic, integrative, intervention, motivational interviewing, and neuro-linguistic. Many different therapeutic practices are integrated into the programs, including sports, individual and group counselling, education, and holistic treatments.
During the assessment process the individual is examined by a doctor to ensure that he or she is physically and mentally stable enough to undergo treatment. The individual must agree to enter treatment and to abide by the rules of the program.
During the intake phase the patient will be informed as to what they can and can’t bring into the center. They will be told the rules and regulations of the program and what they can expect in terms of drug testing, and they’ll probably be given an orientation process to get them used to the facility.
Treatment can’t go forward unless the patient first undergoes a medically supervised detoxification period, during which the body is given time to rid itself of the drug to which it has become addicted. In most cases the period of withdrawal, excruciating in many cases, can be eased with medication.
According to Dr. David Feillin of the Yale School of Medicine medication-assisted treatment is widely accepted by experts as being the best way top treat addictions to opioids. Methadone, buprenorphine, and certain other medications ease withdrawal symptoms and cravings without creating a high. This enables patients to focus on their lives—specifically on what to change in order to avoid relapse.
The word “inpatient treatment” simply refers to care administered to a patient living in the facility, whether it be a hospital or a center providing long-term care. There are a number of facilities in New Haven that provide excellent inpatient care for varying periods of duration.
“Outpatient treatment” is treatment given to those not living in the facility, and usually comes in the form of regular drug testing, group and individual counseling, and education.
Aftercare and Sober Living in New Haven, Connecticut
Treatment will have prepared you for how to live your life after completion. You may have to avoid certain places or people, perhaps even find a new place to live and a new career. You may enter “safe” housing that will efectively prevent you from returning to drugs.
Don’t fear that no one will be there for you when you leave the program! Many 12-step groups meet in New Haven where recovering addicts provide peer support and encourage each other to stay clean and sober. There are also outpatient clinics where you can go for help if you fear a relapse.
Is This You?
Are you living in Connecticut and struggling with addiction? If so, the decision to enter treatment and get clean can open doors to a world of wisdom, growth, and joy for you. It won’t be easy, but every painful step you take will pay off in the end.
If you know someone who is abusing controlled substances, an intervention might just save their life. Get in touch with us to find out how that works.
Life is very interesting . . . in the end, some of your greatest pains become your greatest strengths.
We’re ready and waiting to help you find the resources you need in New Haven to recover from addiction. The time to heal is now. You won’t be returning to your pre-addiction past, but you will be able to welcome in a post-addiction future.
To improve the golden moment of opportunity, and catch the good that is within our reach, is the great art of life.