in about 12 hours Wednesday, more than 70 people — most of whom had been on the New Haven green — were treated for overdoses of a drug known as “K2” laced a with a synthetic opioid, police said. The number of overdose cases had grown to 71 by about 10 p.m., police said. ONE MAN ARRESTED
By late Wednesday afternoon, Mayor Toni Harp had increased police presence on the green, and directed that the New Haven Fire Department and AMR ambulance maintain an around-the clock incident-command center there. She also asked that the city be given larger supplies of the opioid antidote Narcan from the state Department of Public Health, said city spokesman Laurence Grotheer.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said the state Department of Public Health and the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services assisted in New Haven in the midst of the overdoses. “Today’s emergency is deeply troubling and illustrative of the very real and serious threat that illicit street drugs pose to health of individuals,” Malloy said. “The substance behind these overdoses is highly dangerous and must be avoided.”
Authorities said the patients had smoked “K2,” a synthetic cannabinoid, mixed with the powerful opioid fentanyl. The patients were taken to area hospitals for overdose-related respiratory illnesses, Officer David Hartman said.
“With the exception of one patient, thus far, the illnesses are largely not life-threatening and concentrated to a portion of the New Haven green,” Hartman said.
Fire Department first responders were handling so many calls that they were experiencing “compassionate-care fatigue” and had to be rotated off the engine companies, said New Haven Fire Chief John Alston.
He said this was the single largest concentration of overdose victims that the department had experienced. The city mounted a mass-casualty response, including fire, police, ambulances, emergency management, city health department and Yale New Haven Hospital personnel, said Rick Fontana, emergency management director.
Alston said drug overdoses in New Haven, as in other cities, are at epidemic proportions and that the city is in the grip of a public health crisis.
She said toxicology tests will help investigators learn more about the nature of the drug.
Nationally, overdose deaths reached a record level of 72,000 in 2017, according to a recent federal report.
Authorities said most of the New Haven patients responded to high doses of Narcan given at the hospital and they were released. But some overdosed again, including one person who was treated for three separate overdoses.
Two former addicts said almost any drug can be sprayed on K2, or even dribbled out of eye droppers. The additives boost the high, but can create a dangerous, sometimes deadly cocktail. K2 is illegal, but can still be bought in some shops and corner stores.
Many of the victims were homeless and unemployed and represented a wide range in age. Alston said many contend with mental health issues, making the drug abuse a medical issue in addition to a legal one. The New Haven green is a meetingplace for the homeless population in the city. Grotheer disputed the notion that the green was evolving into anything like a tent city at night.
Police said late Wednesday that they arrested one man on an unrelated warrant and viewed him as a “person of interest” in connection with the drugs the victims were using.
Officials said Wednesday’s response was a tremendous drain on the fire department. One engine company, for example, responded to eight separate overdoses.
Alston said some people were unconscious and in respiratory distress, and others were vomiting. He said there were a dozen overdoses in 40 minutes on the green on Wednesday morning. As Fontana was talking to reporters late in the morning, the fire radio crackled with reports of two more people down on the green, and police, medics and firefighters ran or drove to aid the latest victims a few hundred yards away.
The Drug Enforcement Administration is assisting with the investigation and will send drug samples to a federal lab for analysis.
The DPH provided 50 doses of naloxone as the city of New Haven ran out of their naxolene supplies over the course of 24 hours.
More than a dozen people overdosed on synthetic marijuana July 4 in New Haven, The Associated Press reported at the time. Most of those overdoses also happened at the New Haven green, the wire service said.