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PHOTO — City and state officials bow their heads as the Rev. Phillip Krakowiak Sr., pastor of the First Evangelical Lutheran Church of West Haven, far right, leads a prayer service Wednesday, March 6, on the steps of City Hall for West Haven residents who have died of opioid addiction. From left, City Council Chairman Ronald M. Quagliani, D-at large; City Clerk Deborah Collins; state Rep. Dorinda Borer, D-West Haven; Mayor Nancy R. Rossi; and state Rep. Charles J. Ferraro, R-West Haven. The solemn ceremony marked the city’s second observance of Black Balloon Day. (City Photo/Michael P. Walsh)
WEST HAVEN, March 6, 2019 — Flanked by black balloons, a sober reminder of the lives taken by the opioid crisis, the Rev. Phillip Krakowiak Sr. led Mayor Nancy R. Rossi and city and state officials in a prayer service Wednesday morning, March 6, for West Haven residents who have died of drug addiction.
During the solemn ceremony, which marked the city’s second observance of Black Balloon Day, Krakowiak, pastor of the First Evangelical Lutheran Church of West Haven, offered words of hope, love and support, telling the group of bundled-up leaders who gathered in the bitter cold on the steps of City Hall that the opioid epidemic is “a crisis that is affecting all of us,” including a member of his own family.
Along with Rossi, mayoral Executive Assistant Lou Esposito and mayoral aide Ruth G. Torres, Krakowiak was joined by state Reps. Charles J. Ferraro, R-West Haven, and Dorinda Borer, D-West Haven; City Council Chairman Ronald M. Quagliani, D-at large; City Clerk Deborah Collins; city Health Director Maureen B. Lillis; West Haven Fire Department Chief James P. O’Brien and Deputy Chief Edward C. Sweeney; and West Shore Fire Department Chief Stephen Scafariello and Deputy Chief Dickson Dugan.
Leading up to Black Balloon Day, Rossi called on all residents who have been affected by drug addiction, including pain-reducing opioid medications, to hang a black balloon outside their home to symbolize a loved one who is struggling with addiction or has died of an overdose.
For the second year, Rossi pledged West Haven’s commitment to recognizing the special day after its co-founder, Diane Hurley, of Peabody, Massachusetts, reached out to the mayor seeking the city’s participation. Hurley’s daughter, Lauren Hurley, is the other co-founder.
Lauren Hurley’s mission began March 6, 2016, after her brother-in-law, Greg Tremblay, a father of four, died of a drug overdose a year earlier.
Hurley’s brother, Sean Hurley, was also a drug addict but has been clean for more than a year.
In the wake of the family’s tragedy, she and her mother have joined forces in the war on drugs.
Rossi, who lost a dear friend to addiction, said West Haven’s participation is aimed at “shining a light on how the national public health crisis of opioid addiction affects us locally.”
The brief prayer service was held in concert with an announcement from John Dixon, CEO and president of Bridges Healthcare of Milford, launching the state’s first Mobile Addiction Treatment Team for opioid addiction.
The new mobile unit is called MATT’s Van. The van, staffed by a physician and a peer recovery support counselor, will aid those with opioid addiction starting later in March on Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 1-5 p.m. in the parking lot of City Hall, 355 Main St.
At the request of Diane Hurley, city officials hung a black balloon outside the third-floor window of the mayor’s office for each resident who has died of opioids.
“Twenty-four black balloons are on display outside City Hall today,” Rossi said. “Each one represents an opioid death in West Haven last year. I am pleased that we are not merely remembering the 24 people who died, but that we can be part of the announcement that Bridges is making today.”
At least 24 residents died of opioids last year, said Lillis, referencing a November 2018 report by the state Department of Public Health’s Office of Injury Prevention.
“Overdose deaths are a public health epidemic,” Rossi said. “Let’s approach this issue with the appropriate treatment. With the deployment of MATT’s Van, it is my hope that we will be displaying fewer balloons next year.”
According to statistics provided by the DPH, Hartford, with 68 deaths, is ranked first among the Connecticut cities and towns with the highest number of people killed by overdoses last year. Waterbury is ranked second, with 45 deaths, followed by New Haven, 43; Bridgeport, 34; and New Britain, 33.
“We have made some progress in recent years with respect to legislation addressing this continual and devastating crisis, but we have much work to do,” Borer said. “We are not going to stop until there is parity for mental health and we eliminate the stigma related to substance abuse.”
She added, “The new mobile van by Bridges will allow them to reach those in our community who need assistance most.”
In addition to West Haven, the van will help those with addiction in Milford on Mondays from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. in the parking lot of Beth-El Center, 90 New Haven Ave.
“Our goal is to save lives and provide faster, easier access to treatment in our towns and neighborhoods,” Dixon said.
Individuals in withdrawal from opioids or otherwise ready to start treatment can visit the van to receive a prescription for the medication Suboxone to counter cravings and withdrawal symptoms, said the van’s physician, Dr. Tara Kerner, a psychiatrist. They will also have on-site access to the peer counselor, a Narcan overdose reversal kit and referral to a treatment center like Bridges, as well as transportation to a pharmacy if needed to fill the prescription, Kerner said.
The service is free for individuals older than 18. Proof of insurance is not required.
Dixon said: “We know that medication-assisted treatment is the most effective tool we have right now to battle opioid addiction. Taking the first step to treatment is extremely difficult. We hope this mobile service will make that step easier for many who are suffering and at risk of overdose and death today.”
The van and staff will not carry medication. Bridges offers medication-assisted treatment by appointment at its main clinic, 941-949 Bridgeport Ave., Milford.
Funding for the van and services is from a grant through the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.
Bridges is the DMHAS-designated local mental health authority and nonprofit, community-based provider for outpatient mental health and addiction services for adults in Milford, Orange and West Haven. It also provides programs and services for children, families and young adults throughout the region.
Details at http://www.bridgesct.org.
— MICHAEL P. WALSH, Public Relations Information Coordinator
John Dixon, CEO and president of Bridges Healthcare of Milford, second from right, and Dr. Tara Kerner, third from right, announce the state’s first Mobile Addiction Treatment Team for opioid addiction during the city’s second observance of Black Balloon Day. The new mobile unit is called MATT’s Van. The van, staffed by Kerner, who is a psychiatrist, and a peer recovery support counselor, will aid those with opioid addiction starting later in March on Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 1-5 p.m. in the parking lot of City Hall, 355 Main St. (City Photo/Michael P. Walsh)