Local paramedic’s first-hand look at the deadly toll of drug use amid the pandemic

This Week in Connecticut

HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) — The coronavirus pandemic has done nothing to slow down the opioid epidemic. In fact, the number of fatal drug overdoses in Connecticut went up in the last year. One Hartford paramedic has seen that deadly toll firsthand, and now he is writing about it.

The pond and rolling hills of Hartford’s Pope Park look nice until you look at them through the eyes of 62-year-old Peter Canning. That is when you notice the needles and heroin bags all over the ground. Canning has been a Hartford Paramedic for 25 years, and he has come to Pope Park a lot.

“We’ve done overdoses on the benches, across the street, in a lot of the cars,” he said, pointing to the various locations.

Canning spent years as a speechwriter for Senator and Governor Lowell Weicker, and now he’s writing again. His book “Killing Season” is about the people he has seen overdose from opioids.
For example, there was the call about the grown woman who had been raised by her grandmother because her mother was an addict.

“She said that she always wanted to try heroin because she wanted to know what it was about heroin that made her mother love heroin more than her, and so that the first time that she tried it, she said she understood her mother,” Canning remembered.

At the start of his career, Canning thought addiction was a character flaw. He told people with drug problems to “Just say No”.

“Now I say to people, ‘Are you ready for help?'” he said. “If they’re not ready for help, I will tell them how to use it safely.”

With that change in attitude came the realization that drug addicts are going to survive a lot better if they do what they are going to do in a place that is safe and clean. That is what brought Canning to “The Drop.” It is an addiction services center that offers lots of help. It also offers a bathroom in the back where nobody is going to question what a client does inside, but somebody will knock on the door every three minutes to make sure they are okay.

Besides that bathroom, The Drop offers clean needles and Narcan, the drug that revives someone from an overdose. The Drop is very busy these days.

“We’re saving a lot of lives,” said Michael Morris, an Ambassador for The Drop. “It’s really killing people, the crisis out here now. Even with the Covid. It seems like it would slow down, but it hasn’t.”

If anything, isolation and unemployment have driven more people to drug use. Canning says laws and stigma then drive addicts into the shadows.

“So what I wanted to do in writing this book is bring the voices of my patients to the public in hopes that their voices will change the public, as they changed me as I heard their stories,” Canning said, which will hopefully mean fewer trips that he has to make to Pope Park.

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