Fire chief appointed to opioid panel

  • Scott Cooney (Courtesy photograph)

Valley News Staff Writer
Sunday, April 14, 2019

HARTFORD — Hartford Fire Chief Scott Cooney was appointed to Gov. Phil Scott’s Opioid Coordination Council in February.

The 22-member council brings together family members, law enforcement, first responders, business leaders and other community members to brainstorm responses to the opioid epidemic, including prevention, intervention and recovery throughout Vermont.

Cooney has attended two sessions since his appointment that have included presentations on addiction and the brain, as well as the expansion of the Icelandic model of prevention, an evidence-based, community approach that has reduced substance misuse rates in that country by providing young people with structured, supervised activities.

During his 23 years with the Hartford Fire Department, Cooney has seen how opioids have devastated the community.

“We’ve always happened to play the part of rescuer in overdose or substance abuse emergencies — that’s always been a role this department has had for many years,” he says.

In the past three years, Cooney’s department has responded to 800 cases related to behavioral emergencies, which include substance misuse or mental health issues. He says the presence of opioids comprises a large number of those calls. His department has had to address the needs of staff who respond to such emergencies: from addressing the emotional aspect of responding to overdoses or ensuring the safety component of handling fentanyl, which can be dangerous even in small amounts.

“It’s not the organic drugs we’re seeing anymore,” Cooney said. “It’s chemically manufactured fentanyl, methamphetamines.”

The Governor’s Council isn’t Cooney’s first experience in a group that targets the opioid epidemic.

Since 2015, he’s been a member of the Hartford Community Coalition, an organization that aims to reduce food insecurity, mental illness stigma and substance misuse in the town. The coalition has hosted community forums on prevention, and distributes information about prescription medication safety in the Hartford area.

“I’ve had experience in seeing how Hartford has been dealing with substance abuse concerns within the locality, through (the coalition) specifically — and how police, fire, and all different social services have come together in that community partnership,” Cooney said.

On Saturday, April 27, the Hartford Community Coalition will partner with the Hartford Police Department to collect unused and expired prescription medication as part of National Prescription Drug Take Back Day.

The collection point that day will be at the West Hartford Library from 9-10:30 a.m.