Outside the APT Foundation in New Haven. Steve Hamm / C-HIT.org

Our state needs to reconcile with the uncoordinated and poorly planned response to the opioid crisis. This is most evident in New Haven, where we have a major methadone clinic with documented incidents of nearby drug dealing and violence 330 feet from an elementary and middle school.

Kids walking to school aren’t safe, but there has been no concrete plan to move the site on 495 Congress Avenue in the immediate future. 

Tom Goldenberg

This is but one of the reasons why our state needs to hold a public hearing on the response to the opioid crisis, and it needs to be held in New Haven, specifically at John Daniels school.

Our legislators should see firsthand, as I did recently, how close this school is to a methadone clinic tied to drug dealing and even a murder. Legislators should hear from our New Haven residents, particularly those in underserved communities of color, on how they have been left out of the conversation on where methadone clinics and safe-use injection sites are decided. Our legislators should hear from our academic community and clinical staff about effective practices in ensuring that methadone clinics are well-run, orderly, and beneficial to their inhabited community. 

Our legislature has passed laws on proximity to schools in terms of advertising cigarettes, advertising alcohol, and establishing drug-free zones. The methadone clinic on 495 Congress Avenue has become a hotbed for illegal drug dealing, public disturbance, and violence, endangering children and families who live in the residential area and go to the school across the street.

New Haven has also had a methadone treatment organization purchase property for expansion in a separate underserved Black residential neighborhood, and neither the organization nor our city administration thought to inform residents or even the local Alder.

We desperately need an open conversation on best practices when dealing with the opioid epidemic. This is even more pressing as cities across the U.S. (and from what I have heard, New Haven city government) plan safe-use injection sites, where cities establish a penalty-free zone for injecting opioids. 

I am calling on our state legislators to hold a public hearing in New Haven to discuss these issues in our public health response to the opioid epidemic. I fundamentally do not believe that we can only have one or the other – public health or respect for underserved communities. I also believe that we need to discuss how a regional problem must be addressed at a regional level and not by concentrating services in urban centers and leaving those cities to bear the burden of unforeseen consequences. 

I spent a week visiting methadone clinics in and near New Haven, talking one-on-one with patients, clinic staff, local residents, community activists, and even drug dealers. And what I can say is that the current approach is deeply troubling, in a way that is reminiscent of how communities of color were treated in the days of redlining. We must do better. And our legislators need to be here to hear what is happening in order to address it.

Tom Goldenberg is a Democratic candidate for Mayor of New Haven.

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