SOUTHINGTON - Michael Gagnon was set to be the starting nose guard for the Southington High School varsity football team going into his sophomore year.
But he was caught with a very small amount of marijuana at school one day, and that started a pathway of several trips to therapists, mental health visits and drug rehabs before he met a girl that introduced him to heroin.
On a Monday morning, Gagnon’s mother found him unresponsive and unable to revive him after administering naloxone. That happened a couple months after he had said he wanted to get help.
“This initiative, I believe would have resulted in a different outcome had it been around for our family,” said Christine Gagnon, Michael’s mother.
She was referring to the H.O.P.E. initiative with Hartford HealthCare, the State’s Attorney’s office and local emergency responders that began in November. Southington recently joined.
The initiative stands for Heroin Opioid Prevention and Education, and gives local law enforcement officers the discretion to forgo a possession or paraphernalia charge and to get a person struggling with addiction into treatment.
If the person has an arrest pending, that charge will be dealt with, but police and emergency responders will be able to bring the patient to an emergency room that can give them medication to deal with their addiction.
By giving that medication, addicts are 25% more likely to still be involved with treatment a month later, according to J. Craig Allen, medical director and vice president of addiction services at Rushford of Hartford HealthCare.
“We are committed to working closely with the town of Southington to improve healthcare in this community,” said Gary Havican, president of the Hospital of Central Connecticut. “The days of being able to sit back and wait for patients to come to us are over. We need to be innovative … together we must meet people where they are in their healthcare journey and make sure we are providing integrated care to get better.”
According to an online database with the state’s Department of Public Health, Southington had 38 opioid overdoses between 2012 and June of 2018. Neighboring cities and towns had overdoses of their own, including New Britain with 158, Bristol with 113, Newington with 34, Plainville with 25, Berlin with 22 and Plymouth with 23 during that time frame. The state as a whole had 4,544 overdoses.
“We’re not going to arrest our way out of this problem,” said Deputy Chief William Palmieri, referencing comments made by former New Britain Chief James Wardwell. “We need to find a way to provide people that are addicted the services they need to get better and then we also need to surgically focus our law enforcement efforts on the people that are dealing this poison, because those are the people that truly deserve to be arrested.”
New Britain, Newington and Berlin Police Departments are enrolled in the program.
Charles Paullin can be reached at 860-801-5074 or firstname.lastname@example.org.