On March 22, 2023, the Connecticut Public Health Committee held a hearing on a series of bills it was debating. One of the bills was to create pilot overdose prevention sites in Connecticut. Two hundred and seventeen people signed up to speak that day on a variety of issues, but a good many of them were on this important issue. Testimony began at 11:00 AM. By the time it was my turn to speak, it was past midnight. You had the option of speaking via Zoom or coming down and testifying in person. I monitored the hearing on Zoom during the day, and then drove down to the Legislative Office Building when it was getting close to my turn.
This was not the first time I had testified before the legislature. Every time I have done it, I am filled with a sense of wonder. You sit at single person table and address the committee who sit in a horseshoe in front of you. You push a button to activate your microphone. You are given three minutes to speak and then they comment of what you said or ask you questions. Anyone who wants to speak will be heard. You just have to sign up and then show up. Democracy in Action! It is my understanding the committee stayed there until 3 in the morning until the last speaker had spoken.
Here is my testimony taken from the official transcript:
REP. MCCARTHY VAHEY (133RD):
And we have Peter Canning. Welcome.
PETER CANNING: Hello. Hi. Thanks for having me, and thanks for this wonderful setting. I mean, this is just democracy and action here to have listened to all the things that have gone on today and to all your thoughtful questions to people.
My name is Peter Canning, I've been a paramedic in Hartford for almost 30 years. When I started, I thought people who used drugs had a character flaw. I'd tell them, you better stop using or you're going to end up dead or in jail.
Only when I began listening to their stories did I learn that addiction is a disease and that many people who use drugs began their perilous journeys because of doctor's prescriptions following an
injury or illness.
I heard the same phrase over and over from my patients, "I used to be a normal person once," and they had been, they were loved people, all who were sent on journeys that they could not have
anticipated, and which for many proved impossible to extricate themselves from.
I have found people dead behind dumpsters, down alleyways, under bridges, alone in parked cars, in basements without light, and behind locked doors in public restrooms and family homes. Stigma in law drive people into the shadows where there is no one to help them if they overdose.
According to the CDC, 91% of those who died of fatal overdoses died using alone. A few years ago, I was called to an overdose in a wooded area of an abandoned lot right next to the community health center on Grand Street. The medical staff there up on the fourth floor had looked out into the abandoned lot, and they saw someone who'd been using drugs, and they saw he was motionless, so they called 911.
We got there and were able to revive him with naloxone. The next day, I responded to a medical emergency in the community health center up on that same floor, and I talked to the staff about it, and I thanked them for calling and said they'd saved the person's life. And then I had a suggestion, I thought, wouldn't it be a great idea if instead of hiding in a wooded area of an abandoned lot, that man could have come into the health center, to a special area where he could have used under the watch of a caring health professional who could have treated him if he overdosed, provided ointment for his abscesses, and talked with him about his life and his problems, and helped guide him toward treatment. A little-known part of the Hippocratic Oath says, "Into whose ever house I enter, I will enter to help the sick." Wouldn't it be nice if the sick could enter our medical houses and be treated like everyone else with dignity, with care and love?
I support the creation of overdose prevention sites in Connecticut. They won't save everyone, but they will save those who walk through their doors.
Thank you again for this wonderful hearing that you put on and for your consideration of this issue.
I'm happy to answer any questions if you have one.
REP. MCCARTHY VAHEY (133RD): Mr. Canning, this Committee in this session has heard a lot of very powerful and very emotional testimony, and I've made it through all of it, but somehow your description of how alone people are is just hitting me in a very different place. Maybe it's because it's after midnight, but to say that 91% of the people who died, died alone, and if there's nothing we do, that's more important in this Committee, is to make sure people know that they are not alone and that they have help. And I want to thank you for your testimony here today.