News & Politics

Horrified Onlookers Watch as 71 Drug Users Collapse in Connecticut Park... IN ONE DAY

New Haven emergency personnel respond to overdose cases on the New Haven Green in Connecticut on Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2018. (Arnold Gold/New Haven Register via AP)

Residents watched in horror as more than 70 people collapsed near a city park in Connecticut Tuesday night into Wednesday, overdosing on what authorities believe was a tainted batch of synthetic marijuana. Vomiting and hallucinating drug users dropped like flies throughout the day as emergency crews raced to the New Haven Green to save lives.

“We have a guy laid out in the alleyway, unresponsive, eyes wide open. He’s out cold,” one bystander hollered, according to the New Haven Register.

An emergency medical technician for the New Haven Fire Department told the Register that he’s never had such an abnormal day at work in the five years he’s been there.

“This was a particularly odd, rare occasion where (there was) call after call for man down, obviously with symptoms of some kind of overdose, and at the time of getting that patient packaged and transported to the hospital, we’d see another immediately fall down, right there,” Lt. Ernest Jones said. “At that point, we’d go help that patient, and while helping that patient, another person went down. So it became a domino effect.”

Out of the dozens of people rushed to the hospital, only two showed life-threatening symptoms, authorities said.

Victims displayed a multitude of symptoms, including “vomiting, hallucinating, high blood pressure, shallow breathing, semi-conscious and unconscious states,” according to Rick Fontana, director of the city’s Office of Emergency Operations.

EMTs administered Naloxone, an antidote for narcotic overdoses, to some victims but it didn’t appear to be effective.

Fire Chief John Alston said, “People are self-medicating for several different reasons and every agency — police, fire, medical, hospitals — all are strained at this time. This is a problem that’s not going away.”

Alston said that based on the evidence at the scene, the drug was suspected to be K2, a synthetic marijuana. “We’ve heard some reports of people smoking things,” he said, “but it’s impossible to say with certainty if all victims received the same substance.” K2, also known as “spice,” is frequently laced with other drugs and can result in seizures, psychosis, and even death.

“Do not come down to the Green and purchase this K2,” Police Chief Anthony Campbell said. “It is taking people out very quickly, people having respiratory failure. Don’t put your life in harm.”

The Green is located in downtown New Haven and reportedly attracts homeless people and drug users throughout the year.

Police arrested 37-year-old Felix Melendez in connection to at least some of the overdoses in the park. Melendez was out on parole prior to his arrest, according to the Register.

Officials were doing drug tests on the victims to find out exactly what they ingested.

“We heard from people on the Green this morning that it could potentially be laced with PCP and some of the reactions of the patients in the emergency department would suggest it was an opioid involved as well,” EMS Medical Director Sandy Bogucki said.

A woman who was on her way to the courthouse told reporters she was shocked to see the massive presence of emergency crews.

“I had no idea. I thought somebody had fainted or something like that, but then I hear overdoses,” Ioanna Gutas said. “There were over 20 overdoses. Here, on the Upper Green. Wow, that’s really—I have to take a deep breath.” She said she’d never seen anything like it in her 50 years of living in the city.

The Rev. Luk De Volder, rector of Trinity Church on the Green, said, “We have far fewer sleeping on the Green but the drug use is terrible. We find white powder here on the Green of people who used cocaine.”

“The Police Department is aware of a high number of patients that were treated since last night… The majority of cases are centered on the New Haven Green. Thus far, (a large number of) patients have been transported to area hospitals for overdose related illnesses,” police spokesman Officer David Hartman said in a release Wednesday.

One patient was non-responsive to Naloxone — a drug used to treat narcotic overdoses — and is “very sick,’” Hartman said in the release.

A similar outbreak occurred at the same park on July 4, when more than a dozen people were treated for overdoses.

Connecticut surpassed the national death rate for drug and opioid overdoses in 2013, with an average of two people dying of a drug overdose every day.

A Democratic alderman suggested that dozens of people passing out from drug overdoses in one day is a common occurrence nationwide. Alder Richard Furlow (D-27) said, “Well, this is terrifying; it’s terrifying, but this is not exclusive to New Haven.”

“This is an urban problem, and it’s nationwide,” he said.