Being primarily rural, several factors exist in North Central Connecticut that create significant barriers for our residents to gain access to behavioral and mental health services, including services for co-occurring and substance use disorders, often leaving residents untreated and isolated in the community. This area has seen a significant increase in the number of opioid and opioid/fentanyl overdoses and deaths according to the state’s Chief Medical Examiner’s Office. In 2016, the state total was 917 deaths: Suffield-4; East Windsor-4; and Windsor Locks-7. For the year 2016, the Center for Disease Control identified 14 deaths per 100,000 population for the U.S. and 10 deaths due to suicide per 100,000 population in Conn. By comparison, suicide deaths in our area were approximately 41 per 100,000, according to police data.
Typically, law enforcement officers are the first point of contact for triage and risk assessment for residents who may need behavioral health and substance use services. However, police departments in our rural areas may not be sufficiently staffed and/or trained to manage this expectation. Most of the law enforcement agencies have less than 25% of the department’s total officers trained in Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training while some departments have no officers trained in CIT. The lack of behavioral health and de-escalation training can result in reactive and sometimes combative responses to community crises
Recognizing the need to provide more for our communities, the Suffield Police Department and Community Health Resources, in partnership with the East Granby, East Windsor, and Windsor Locks Police Departments actively pursued and subsequently have been awarded federal funding in the amount of 1.65 million dollars over a five year project to divert individuals with serious mental illness or co-occurring disorders from the criminal justice system into appropriate community-based behavioral healthcare services.
The North Central CT Diversion Team will provide services and training to these four (4) neighboring towns having a total population of 34,714 adults. Each of our towns is rural, with significant rates of mental health issues, substance use disorders and suicide. Of note, the region is in the midst of an unprecedented opioid use crisis that has touched people of all ages, including veterans. Interventions will include extensive training for police; outreach within the participating communities; and the expansion of access to mental health and substance use services by embedding a crisis clinician in the Suffield Police Department who will serve all four communities to help divert individuals in crisis. The project goals include: diverting individuals with serious mental illness encountered by law enforcement into community behavioral healthcare services and ensuring that individuals have safe and supportive encounters with police and behavioral health professionals. The grant focus will include the U.S Veterans Administration developed specialized training for law enforcement and veterans, law enforcement and social service training on lethal means counseling and the specific identification of veterans in the area who may be identified at risk of behavioral health crises.