Move the entire operation away from homes and schools deep into the heart of Yale’s medical district.
Fix the broken, under-funded Medicaid transportation system that’s supposed to serve those in recovery.
Have a private van service escort clients in and out.
Maybe even form a drug users’ union so they can have their own voice.
Operate in all of Connecticut’s 169 towns, and do it 24/7, if you must, but find ways to relieve the stress on an already deeply stressed Hill neighborhood.
Those were some of the ideas and plain cris de coeur framed by remarks about compassion, cautions about stigmatizing drug users, and the perils of NIMBY-ism that emerged from a four and a half hour marathon of listening and venting Wednesday night at City Hall.
The participants: nearly 100 who attended the meeting of the Board of Alders’ Human Services Committee in the aldermanic chamber.
After engaging about 20 speakers including APT docs and staff and besieged neighbors, alders voted not to take any specific action on APT itself. Instead, the committee voted to approve an resolution offered by Westville Alder Richard Furlow. It calls on the city officially to term drug addiction a “chronic medical condition.” And with that as a model, the resolution charged the city to develop an action plan to deal with the crisis.
The resolution, which next goes before the full board, passed unanimously.
It was the first time, said committee Chair Darryl Brackeeen, Jr., that APT had spoken directly to alders, explaining who they are, what they do, and how addiction is often a life-long struggle, with relapse as a regular feature of the arc of cure. CEO Dr. Lynn Madden and staff doc Mary Ellen Savage stayed the whole session
Under pressure from constituents following a killing near the site on Congress, the mass overdoses on the Green, and the daily dealing with APT clients wandering the streets after exiting APT, alders also wanted to address APT staff directly. (Click here for a story exploring the pros and cons of APT’s unique methadone model.)
They beseeched APT, an independent entity founded in 1970 and staffed primarily by Yale physicians, to help solve the growing drug-use-and-treatment crisis in New Haven, whose epicenter is the area from the Green to Congress Avenue.
A sampling of Wednesday night’s back-and-forth:
Hill Alder Evelyn Rodriguez: Patients are leaving ill, woozy from the [APT] facility. You state you’ve been meeting with the city since 2014. How can we still have this?
APT’s Lynn Madden: It is not my experience they’re leaving ill from our treatment. But we treat a wide age-range of people. Older people are on other medications [as well as methodone]. We treat very ill people.
Wooster Square Alder Abby Roth: Could APT set up private van rides?
Madden: That’s expensive, and we don’t have the money. Medicaid people are eligible for [free, or subsidized public] transportation. But a pass, for example, that might have been given for a month is now for two days only. It’s complex, it’s gotten worse. We’re in conversation about transportation every day.
Yale School of Public Health Professor Greg Gonsalves: We need more services like APT, not less. Do not surrender to NIMBY-ism and misinformation. Build out from APT’s success. I love this city. People who use drugs are not ‘them.’ They’re our brothers and sisters. It’s shocking to me to hear myths perpetrated.
Yale School of Medicine Psychiatrist Declan Barry: APT’s model is unique: You can enter treatment on the same day [which is critical]. There’s confusion and stigma with this disorder. It is no different than diabetes. That you entertain the idea that it is different is absurd.”
Anonymous shouting audience member: “You don’t live in New Haven!”
Committee Vice Chair Richard Furlow: “This is in no way to stigmatize. I have drug addiction in my family. This committee wants to help.”
Hill Alder Rodriquez: “None of my colleagues view this as NIMBY. It’s about engagement. Shouldn’t what they [APT clients] do when they leave [the facility] matter” to APT?
Roth: Everyone believes it’s a disease. My concern is transit.
Hill North Management Team Chair Howard Boyd; “We’re not against treatment, but the safety and health of the community. The loitering, the foot traffic, what the kids see, [the effect on] local business. It’s an ugly look out there. We want APT to sit with us, the community.”
Congress Avenue resident Jose DeJesus: “I think APT is terrific. I think they should increase hours to 24/7. I think they should open in all 169 towns. Just not in a residential neighborhood. I’m all about access. We just need to be cognizant that one neighborhood cannot bear it all. Other places have to pick up the slack.”
Longtime Arch Street resident Lynda Faye Wilson: “It’s about littering, loitering, and disrespect. APT needs to come up with something with their clients. It makes me sick to see them [post-treatment clients] gathering in our green space.
Downtown resident Jacob Remes: “I work in New York but live in New Haven because I’m fiercly proud of New Haven, of [immigration] sanctuary, and of APT. A caring city. We need to see our neighbors not as problems but as people to help.”
Yale School of Public Health’s Jeannia Fu: “Recall the AIDS epidemic. Had we heeded NIMBY instincts, we would not have solved that epidemic. When we turn away, when we don’t look, when we deny housing due to addiction, which happens in New Haven, that’s when people die. The solution is not to ‘control’ these people but include their voices. They’re not ‘zombies.’ We’re missing a big piece of the solution” from drug users.
Longtime Hill resident Abdias Rodriguez: “They come to your porch to defecate! In the green space they’re not just hanging out, they’re cooking drugs. We ripped out 300 families to put in a school [John C. Daniels]. and now look what the kids see! Five hundred yards from school there’s active [drug] distribution. Our people did that illegally. It shouldn’t be legal now. We sacrificed a lot to keep the little we got.”
Family and addiction physician Dr. Curtis Bone: “Addiction is like obesity, but addiction [by contrast] has an effective drug [methodone]. Seven out of ten people on methadone return to work. This [New Haven] is a beautiful city due to its sense of community, with caring institutions like Cornell Scott and APT. I feel the tenor of conversation [tonight] has shifted from finger-pointing to partnering.”
Resolved: Show Resolve
After the vote on the resolution, Hill Alder Evelyn Rodriguez, who holds a master’s degree in public health, pointed out to Furlow: “There is already federal law that supports drug addiction as a medical condition.”
Furlow said the resolution is still important because it could change the culture of how we deal with the opioid crisis and set New Haven up as an important municipal model.
Other alders chimed in that the resolution might also open doors to additional state and federal funding support.
However, as the clock neared 30 minutes to midnight, no further details were offered.
Brackeen said that for months City Hall’s Community Services Administration other staff have been looking into this problem. APT, and other “stakeholders” will be part of a workshop, scheduled in the next few weeks, as part of the run-up to create a city action plan mandated by the Furlow resolution.
The resolution now moves to the full Board of Alders for approval.
Also voted on Wednesday night was approval for the city’s health department to accept a $25,000 grant, over a five year period, to provide preventive medicine education, from Griffin Hospital.