WALLINGFORD — The Coalition for a Better Wallingford will hold it’s annual Walk for Hope Thursday evening to honor those affected by opioid addiction as part of Red Ribbon Week.
“It's to acknowledge and show respect for those who have passed, those who are struggling with opioid addiction and to spread the message of hope that recovery is a possibility,” said Ken Welch, founder of the Coalition for a Better Wallingford.
The Coalition holds the walk each year as part of its ceremonies for Red Ribbon Week, a national campaign to raise awareness for drug prevention. Welch said the Walk of Hope is the Coalition's “signature Red Ribbon Week event.”
The walk will begin in front of Town Hall at 6 p.m. Thursday. Walkers will travel down Center Street to the Town Green and then back to Town Hall, Welch said. About 500 to 600 luminaries will line Center Street.
Welch said the Coalition will also use the event to speak out against against a bill passed through Congress last year that weakened the Drug Enforcement Administration’s ability to stop large drug companies from distributing opioids. The bill recently entered the national spotlight following investigative reports by The Washington Post and CBS News. Prior to the bill’s passage, the DEA was able to immediately prevent drugs from reaching the street based on its judgment that the drugs posed an "imminent danger" to a community. Now, the agency must demonstrate that a company's actions represent "a substantial likelihood of an immediate threat," a much higher bar that officials say is difficult to meet.
In response to The Washington Post and CBS News reports, the Coalition has called on Congress to repeal the bill. The Coalition formed in 2012 to raise awareness about the opioid epidemic and provide outreach.
"We've done thousands of hours of volunteer work to try and get on top of that thing and this bill basically wipes out all of that effort," said Welch, who founded the nonprofit in 2012 after his 20-year-old step daughter, Taylor Short, died from an overdose. “I’ve never been so mad in my entire life.
During a meeting Tuesday, the Town Council formally showed support for the Coalition by voting 7-1 to pass a resolution that stated the council’s support for “Congressional efforts to repeal” the bill. Council Chairman Vincent Cervoni said he placed the resolution on the meeting agenda after Welch approached him asking for the resolution.
“The Wallingford Town Council stands firmly in support of those taking on the opioid crisis, seeking solutions to combat opioid addiction and related deaths. The Council is furthermore in support of Congressional efforts to repeal the ‘Marino Bill,’” the resolution stated.
The bill, commonly referred to as the “Marino Bill” because Rep. Tom Marino, R-Pennsylvania., reportedly played a key role in its passage, stripped the DEA's ability to freeze suspicious shipments from drug companies, shipments the agency was concerned were on their way to rogue doctors or pharmacies suspected of corruptly prescribing the drugs.
Welch said he does not want any members of Connecticut's congressional delegation to attend the Coalition’s Red Ribbon Week ceremonies.
The council’s resolution stated, “Any Congressional representative, planning to attend any of the Red Ribbon Week ceremonies in Wallingford should do so with the intention of explaining his or her plans to repeal the ‘Marino Bill,’ thereby restoring the DEA power to enforce the Controlled Substance Act.”
Cervoni said it is unusual for the council to voluntarily pass a resolution unless it is a required element of receiving a grant, for instance.
Welch said the resolution is another indication of how far the town government has come to embrace the Coalition’s efforts to combat opioid addiction. When the Coalition first approached the Council for support after forming in 2012, Welch said the prevailing attitude of the council was, “What do you want us to do?”
“This is a far cry from conversation we were having five years ago,” Welch said.
“It’s a statement in support of the Coalition,” Cervoni said. “It’s a statement in support of Red Ribbon Week. It’s a statement in support of families dealing with addiction.”
In talking about the resolution, Cervoni said, “I just hope that this little piece is in some way effective in combating the opioid epidemic.”
Democratic Councilor Jason Zandri said he wholly supported the resolution and urged the public to get involved with the Coalition’s efforts.
“If it only saves one person, that’s a victory,” Zandri said.
Republican Councilor Craig Fishbein, also a state representative, was the only councilor to vote against the resolution. Fishbein said while he “wholeheartedly supports”“ efforts to combat opioid addiction, he objected to the resolution specifically referring to the congressional bill passed as the “Marino Bill.” Fishbein pointed out that the bill ultimately passed by Congress was by introduced by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, not Marino.
In the wake of The Washington Post and CBS News reports, Marino resigned as President Donald J. Trump’s nominee to head the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.
“It appears that some people have, 553 days after this thing passed, put a target on Tom Marino merely because he was being put up by President Trump for a position. And I really don’t want to get swept into that,” Fishbein said. “I’m concerned that the good intentions are more surrounded by politics.”
Because the bill originally introduced by Marino was never ultimately passed, Fishbein said the resolution seeks to repeal a bill that does not exist.
“I certainly embrace the intention, but I can’t support the resolution as it presently exists,” Fishbein said.
Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. explained that while the final version wasn’t introduced by Marino, the bill passed was a slightly different version of Marino’s bill.
“That investigative piece (by The Washington Post) was pretty clear about main movers as far as what went through the House,” Dickinson said. “It was approved by the House, it then went to the Senate. A slightly different version was approved by the Senate, and then (the House and Senate) ended up approving the final version — all by consent. The President signed also without much fanfare.”
The Washington Post report stated, “The chief advocate of the law that hobbled the DEA was Rep. Tom Marino … Marino spent years trying to move the law through Congress. It passed after Sen. Orrin G. Hatch negotiated a final version with the DEA.”
Unaffiliated Councilor John Sullivan criticized Fishbein immediately following his comments by saying, “I thought we were going to leave politics out of this. Obviously not.”
Fishbein said he thinks the council’s passage of the resolution two weeks before the local election on Nov. 7 was politically motivated.
“It appeared to be totally political,” Fishbein said. “Why would you even do this two weeks before an election other than for political points. Resolutions are supposed to be important, not political. I support the intent and mission of the Coalition, but when it gets political, I got to step out.”
Welch said after the meeting that he didn’t understand Fishbein’s reason for voting against the resolution.
“Who cares what the bill’s called. It could be called the Craig Fishbein Bill for all I care. It's the act that’s obscene,” Welch said. “For him to take the stance that he did, it just blew my mind.”