Public health emergency declared in New Haven after 3 deadly her - WFSB 3 Connecticut

Public health emergency declared in New Haven after 3 deadly heroin overdoses

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New Haven officials held a news conference Friday morning regarding more than a dozen tainted heroin overdoses in less than 24 hours. (WFSB photo) New Haven officials held a news conference Friday morning regarding more than a dozen tainted heroin overdoses in less than 24 hours. (WFSB photo)
(WFSB file photo) (WFSB file photo)

Three people are dead and more than 20 others overdosed on a batch of tainted heroin in what the City of New Haven is calling a public health emergency. 

Officials said the number of overdoses may rise.

In most of the cases from Thursday, the patients thought they were buying cocaine.

They also said this was not the typical opiate to which the patients were used to taking. They called it something "new."

They held a news conference at 11 a.m. on Friday.

Dr. Gail D'Onofrio of Yale New Haven Hospital said she is concerned by the overdoses.

"It's very scary and it's all a white powder. People don't know what they're taking, that's the big problem," said D'Onofrio.

Police said the especially lethal batch of heroin has made its way around the streets.

"It's laced with something that's very, very toxic. It's not your normal fentanyl, not your normal cocaine, not your normal heroin," said D'Onofrio.

In addition to the emergency issuance, they prepared fire and emergency medical personnel with an extra supply of the anti-overdosing drug Narcan. They said they had to contact local hospitals and pharmacies for help.

Police said they begin investigating the overdose cases around 10:30 a.m. on Thursday.

Around 3:30 p.m., they said emergency personnel started receiving multiple calls, some with as many as five patients, where people were experiencing overdose symptoms.

The events started to subside around 10 p.m.

Police said their Narcan supply is low; and in many of the recent cases, the drug was so potent that more than one dose was needed to revive patients.

"Firefighters were faced with two and eventually five patients at the same time," said Matt Marcarelli, New Haven assistant fire chief. "All those victims were administered antidote kits. Some were given three, four, five doses."

Police also warned that the tainted batch may not be limited to the Elm City alone. They wanted surrounding communities to be on alert as well.

They said most of their cases originated in the Newhallville/Dixwell community. However, other victims were discovered downtown and in the Annex. West Haven and Shelton have also reported some cases.

Two of the deaths were in New Haven. The third was out of town.

Medical officials said the tainted drug likely contained fentanyl and something else, but they are still testing to be sure.

They stressed that this is like nothing drug users have seen before. They also said that any such drug should be considered deadly.

Assistant Chief of New Haven Police Archie Generoso would not say whether or not there were markings or logos on the drug's bags.

"That would indicate to other people that something else is safe and we don't know what's safe, so if put out like I said before, avoid the bags with balloons on it, and someone says, okay this bag is safe, we don't know that to be true. Right now we don't have enough information to put out," said Generoso.

The cases not only attracted the attention of officials on the state level, but lawmakers as well.

“We have a crisis on our hands and Connecticut families should not have to wait any longer for us to fix it,” said Sen. Chris Murphy. “[Thursday's] tragic string of overdoses was proof that we need more resources to stock life-saving drugs like naloxone, we need better prevention programs, and we to improve coordination between government agencies and health care providers to curb this epidemic."

On Friday, Gov. Dannel Malloy released a statement saying 

“This is a very dangerous situation and one that we are taking seriously. Everyone must recognize that no region of the country, state, city or town is immune — this affects all of us and so many families across our state and nation. That’s why we have been doing everything in our power to stop this epidemic and prevent tragedy, including the recent passage of a series of legislative actions addressing this situation. I’ve been in touch with Mayor Harp and have pledged whatever support the state can provide. That includes ensuring the continued availability of Narcan for first responders and others in the city who are in need of administering this life-saving medication. We must continue to fight this — together.”

Heroin overdoses have been overwhelming medical examiner and coroner's offices nationwide. The U.N office on drugs and crime said heroin use has reached it's highest level in the U.S in 20 years.

It said deaths related to the drug have increased five-fold since the year 2000. It's causing body storage problems and delays during autopsies.

The Associated Press reported that in Connecticut, the medical examiner's office considered renting a refrigerated truck to help out during lengthy investigations.

New Haven officials said they will continue to monitor the overdoses.

Their narcotics anonymous tip line can be reached at 203-946-6098.

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