Heroin epidemic: legislators seek emergency funds to tackle growing crisis

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WATERBURY, Conn. (WTNH)– At a round table meeting, Senator Chris Murphy met with officials and community leaders in Waterbury to discuss battling the state’s growing opioid and heroin epidemic. Waterbury ranks second in the state when it comes to the number of overdoses.

In 2015, Waterbury had 17 opioid or heroin related deaths. Just five months into this year and they’ve already matched that number.

“A lot of these deaths by the way are not Waterbury residents. As a  matter of fact, more than half of them are people who come into Waterbury from the surrounding towns to buy their heroin for their addiction. They overdose and they die on the streets of Waterbury,” said Mayor Neil O’Leary.

Just one hour before the meeting, city officials learned of two more overdoses, one of them fatal. Earlier this week Waterbury Police announced 37 arrests, all people suspected of dealing heroin. It’s the result of Operation Stamp Out, a citywide effort to combat the growing epidemic.

Related: Waterbury police arrest 38 in heroin bust

“Part of the story on how you tackle the heroin epidemic is staffing up law enforcement and going after the dealers,” said Senator Murphy.

Murphy is asking the federal government for $240-million in emergency funding to combat the problem. Some of that money would be used to create special drug task forces in Connecticut’s major cities.

“We put a funding vote on the floor of the senate a month ago. We lost that vote by one. My hope is when members of congress are back in their districts this week they’re gonna hear what I heard today, that the pace of overdose deaths is doubling that of last year and maybe we can get that reversed,” said Murphy.

Waterbury officials say their focus remains on getting the dealers, and the drugs, off the streets.

“We have to make more people aware of what an epidemic and what a crisis this opioid issue is. You can’t look the other way. You’ve gotta act immediately,” said Mayor O’Leary.

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