City Auditor report on snow and ice costs. City Manager says Governor Baker is lobbying FEMA to reimburse municipalities 100% for snow costs. Nothing definite but city preparing paper work just in case. Councilor Milinazzo asks city to investigate FEMA reimbursement of lost revenue for some businesses. Manager says he’ll check it out.
Discussion of Overdose Deaths
Councilor Mercier commends report on city substance abuse; asks that it be posted online so residents can see it. Manager thanks Frank Singleton and Trinity Ambulance for the report. Mayor Elliott says the numbers are alarming. Asks representatives of Trinity Ambulance who are in attendance for any advice they can share. John Chemely of Trinity says he used to think it was all kids but this report shows the average age of opioid overdoses is 35 years old. Says education in schools won’t do the job. Recommends a committee of care givers and responders (which Councilor Belanger had just recommended). Says EMTs see patient for 30 minutes then the hospital might admit them to a rehab facility, the closest of which are in Boston.
Mayor says he wants to know what to request from the governor. Seems more treatment facilities here is very important. Chemely says every community has similar problems so the solution should be regional. Does say that cities have the highest incidence but it’s in the suburbs too. Mayor asks about repeat offenders. Singleton shows map from Das office that in 2014 there were 145 fatal overdoses of which 103 are from heroin. Singleton says progression to fatal ODs normally is 3 years or more so there’s opportunity for intervention. He also says that Tewksbury State Hospital could become an effective treatment center with sufficient state funding.
Councilor Milinazzo asks if the newly created Lowell Drug Court refers defendants to Tewksbury State Hospital. Councilor Rourke (a probation officer) explains the Drug Court has a mandatory 6 month in patient program followed by 12 months of close supervision. Then you have 6 months of further supervision. Says Councilor Mercier, in her job with the Sheriff’s Department, is involved in this. Says this program has a 90% success rate but nothing works unless the individual wants to change.
Councilor Kennedy asks if this has been a constant problem that is just getting more publicity. Singleton assures him it is not based on statistics going back to 2008. Says whatever is going on, there’s definitely an expansion of this epidemic. Points to people who get injured at work, get hooked on prescription pain killers, then transition to heroin which “is a crapshoot” because you don’t know what is in it. Singleton explains that it’s only recently that medical profession prescribes large amounts of very powerful drugs that were not marketed or given ten or fifteen years ago (this is in response to questions from Councilor Kennedy). Singleton maintains excess prescribing by physicians is a big part of this problem and the state health department is working to change this whole prescribing practice. Says during drug turn in days, people bring in enormous bags of opioids from relatives who may have died. Says elderly might not recognize power of these drugs but kids certainly do. Says high cost of opioids on the street now turning quickly to heroin and that heroin is very potent these days. Singleton says if we had 25 people dying per year in Lowell of meningitis there’d be an uproar but with that many overdose deaths, there’s not nearly as much concern.
Councilor Mercier asks about Narcan, saying that a dose of that revives the addict but if the addict doesn’t seek immediate treatment they can easily OD in a short period of time. Chemely says if the person signs a “refusal” the medical providers can’t treat them. Addicts often “furious” after Narcan dosage because it brings them down from their high. They refuse treatment, go back out to seek more drugs, and quickly OD. Chemely says if there person doesn’t want to deal with addiction, you can’t force them to do it.
In response to Councilor Samaras question, Singleton goes back to over-prescription of opioids by the medical profession, especially dentists. People feel that they are prescription drugs so they must be safe when in fact they are potentially very deadly. There will be a subcommittee meeting on this with many inside city and state government in attendance.
Chief Information Officer Miran Fernandez gives a report. Recommends partnering with Comcast which has an established infrastructure within the city for WIFI. There are hundreds of businesses and thousands of customers of Comcast which means Comcast provides many access points for its wifi system all over the city. If you’re already a Comcast customer, you can log in to Comcast almost anywhere in the city for free.
City Manager and Councilors thank Miran. Councilor Milinazzo suggests referring this to Technology Subcommittee.
Councilor Mercier encourages everyone to fill out city census which was mailed out recently. Enclosed with that were handouts for landlords and for homeowners regarding need for permits for home improvement projects.
Sunday Morning Shooting
Mayor Elliott asks for suspension of rules to inquire of City Manager about Sunday morning shooting. Asks for a report from police on plans to revive police gang unit. Manager recommends an executive session to update the council. Says it was not a random shooting but a targeted attack.
Panhandling Ordinance – No public input, no council discussion (much previous discussion has been had on this item). Passes unanimously.
Appointments –Jim Wilde and Richard Lockhart reappointed to Historic Board.
Subcommittee Reports – City Clerk and Auditor Oversight committee met tonight to consider salary adjustment for city clerk. Committee will seek more information before offering a recommendation.
By Councilor Mercier to obtain glass display cases for exhibiting gifts given present and past mayors on behalf of the city. They should be shared with the public in the Mayor’s Reception Room in appropriate display cases. Manager Murphy says the city has already purchased two display cases and they will be delivered tomorrow.
By Councilor Mercier requests Parks and Recreation Subcommittee convene to discuss naming of “Point Park” within the Hamilton Canal District. This park will house sculpture and art work that will be paid for by donations. Newell Flather, one of the donors, has suggested that the park be given a more appropriate name.
By Councilors Belanger and Rourke to have DPD publicize a “Lowell Week” as a way of assisting businesses that have lost revenue due to the tough winter weather.
By Councilors Belanger and Samaras to organize a festival in April in Cupples Square to celebrate Cambodian New Year.
By Mayor Elliott and Councilor Belanger request report on practice/law on grandfathering of older properties under the city’s zoning ordinance. This arose out of the Branch St fire property and the ability of the owner to rebuild it to its pre-fire capacity under zoning ordinance. Interested in reducing density there.
By Mayor Elliott to refer report on city employee overtime usage to Finance Subcommittee. Says he received call from Lt. Governor this evening saying that Chapter 70 (education) and local aid will see an increase in the governor’s budget which is being released tomorrow.
Meeting adjourns at 8 pm