OXFORD — Following two overdose-related deaths in town, members of the Board of Selectmen announced at the Wednesday, September 4, meeting that they plan to expand their efforts to combat the opioid epidemic that has plagued the town and the state. First Selectman George Temple, reporting three overdoses in one week that resulted in two deaths, said he plans to attend the next Oxford Addictive Substances Information Services meeting in October.
Mr. Temple gathered with several school officials, the superintendent, members of OASIS and other community members and leaders earlier on September 4 to discuss ways to combat the problem.
OASIS Chairman Vincent Provenzano told Voices they shared what has been learned so far on the opioid crisis.
“We want to find ways to partner with schools,” said Mr. Provenzano via phone. “We need to address the issues behind addiction.”
So far in 2019, there have been three overdose related deaths in Oxford, according to former OASIS member Susan Schiavi. There were none in 2018 and five deaths in 2017.
Mr. Provenzano said OASIS’ goals are to educate people and families on addiction, what opioids are, Narcan use, different options for treatment and fight the stigma associated to addiction.
“There is so much stigma towards addiction that people are afraid to get help,” said Mr. Provenzano.
He also spoke about his personal experience of losing his daughter to an overdose in 2017, noting that combating addiction is a marathon, not a sprint. He explained completing rehab does not mean a person is cured. That person must work constantly to remain clean. He called addiction a complicated disorder.
Mr. Temple said he will attend a special meeting with the Naugatuck Valley Council of Governments on the issue of opioids in the near future.
Mr. Provenzano said organizers plan to have programs aimed at senior citizens to find ways to manage pain without using prescribed opioids. He reminded that Oxford residents can use the drop box at the police station to drop off unused medication and prescriptions.
Mr. Temple said the town will try to implement more Narcan training programs at the high school. He added they need to get a better grip on the problem in Oxford and remove the stigma associated with addiction. He said parents should be more aware of the problem.
Connecticut currently has a higher overdose rate than the national average with 1,038 drug-intoxicated deaths in 2017 and 1,017 in 2018, according to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. New Haven and Hartford counties have the highest death rates related to drugs in the state.
As part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ strategy, the state Department of Public Health was awarded $5,948,985 to track overdose data as close to real-time as possible and support work to prevent overdoses.
According to HHS, the funding is part of the Trump administration’s effort “to combat the opioid crisis by expanding access to treatment and keeping track of real-time data.”
In other news, selectmen approved a resolution to refinance the interest rates on bonds that aided in building the high school. Finance Director Jim Hliva told selectmen the high school will be paid off by 2029, but said, this is a good time to act on the resolution since the Federal Reserve Bank is cutting interest rates a few weeks prior. He said the town could save $766,723 by approving the measure.
Mr. Hliva told Voices selectmen will look at the resolution again around October 9 and decide by October 25. He said by looking at rates, he found the opportunity to decrease the 2011 interest rates from 3.36 percent to 1.38 and 2012’s from 3.86 to 2.29 percent. He added he tried to refinance bonds on the library, but must wait five years to do so.
Selectmen also approved phase one of architectural planning services as requested by the Great Oak Middle School Evaluation/Improvement committee.
Herman Schuler explained committee members are trying to get Great Oak ready for the Center School students in the 2020 school year.
He added there is a list of what needs to be done including meeting all the educational requirements for the age group.
He said plans include a playground that is height- and age-appropriate for the new students as well as properly sized basketball courts. The items will be forwarded to the Board of Finance. Funding for phase one was already requested in the capital budget.
Selectmen did not act on an idea introduced by Selectman Scott Flaherty to purchase iPads to use only at Board of Selectmen meetings. He said selectmen waste a lot of paper at each of their meetings, noting that even the iPad proposal consists of using 10 sheets of paper.
He estimated about $1,000 for three iPads, saying the town could possibly save on money by not using paper. He stressed selectmen would not take the iPads home; they would only be used at town hall.
Mr. Temple said he wants to check with surrounding towns to see how they conduct meetings and what devices are used.
Selectmen Arnold Jensen said his main concern was would the iPads be compatible with the current software at town hall. Mr. Flaherty suggested tablets could be used as well.
Mr. Temple said they will discuss the idea further at the next selectmen’s meeting.
The school’s facility manager, George Renzoni, went over capital projects costs and updated requests for various school projects at Oxford Center School and Great Oak Middle School. He said several of the projects came under the approved budget.
For instance, oil tanks at both schools have been replaced, which required fuel removal; the costs were under budget. The oil tank replacements were approved at $60,000 each. Great Oak came in at $59,231 and Center School at $53,959.
The Great Oak abatement project, approved at $140,000, only cost $102,142, even with additional patching to the cement floor.
Mr. Temple thanked Mr. Renzoni, saying he appreciated the money he saved for the town.
Selectmen tabled a bonding request to extend Eversource natural gas service and the annual report.