Police chiefs in Connecticut are hoping the new federal spending bill signed by the president on Friday will help get departments resources to battle the opioid epidemic.
"It’s off the charts right now. We went from three or four years ago maybe 10 -under 10 opioid deaths a year to last year’s 35. That’s unheard of," Norwich Police Chief Patrick Daley said.
Daley said he has two Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grants that help put additional patrolmen on the street, but Norwich, Ledyard, Groton and New London are looking to add more officers to their forces to help interdict, investigate and get people addicted to opioids help.
The four departments met with Rep. Joe Courtney on Friday afternoon.
"Eastern Connecticut has really stepped up loud and clear that they want to work together with the other two components in terms of prevention and treatment, but they frankly need more boots on the ground," Courtney said.
Courtney expects the Omnibus Spending Bill will not only add more officers to the force but also get funding for equipment, whether it be Narcan or ways to safely handle evidence like fentanyl.
"The stuff that you’re looking at is killing people and we’re having our officers handle it," Town of Groton Chief L.J. Fusaro told the congressman.
New London Police Chief Peter Reichard agreed officer safety is called into question. Drugs, like fentanyl, are more potent, so his officers have Narcan assigned to their cars in case something were to happen to them or their K9 officers.
Courtney said the state should see more money because Connecticut has seen an increase in opioid deaths.
Ben Iliff has been battling an addiction to opioids, specifically heroin, for about 10 years.
"They’ll give you a bag with some pure white powder in it and you’ll find out one way or another that it wasn’t dope. You’re getting pure fentanyl," the Salem, Connecticut, resident said.
Iliff said what he's seen on the streets has only gotten worse over the last decade.
"We can’t arrest our way out of it. We’ve all heard that," Iliff's mom, Ceci, said.
Ceci said the detox and rehab system needs to be mended, too.
Iliff said there can always be more officers on the ground, but many need to learn the way to better understand and interact with addicts.