As we probe states across the country that have been hit particularly hard with today’s modern heroin epidemic, one leads the way on many fronts: Massachusetts. In highlighting some of the more recent headlines, we hope to reveal the devastating, and crippling effects heroin, and other illicit drugs, are having on the residents and small towns in the commonwealth state, as well as to share what they are doing about the situation to help those affected.
Recently released statistics show that a total of 1,289 deaths occurred as a result of opiate abuse in Massachusetts in 2014, which ranked number 10 compared with the other states throughout the Country. According to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, there was a 63% increase in opioid-related deaths from 2012 to 2014 – far exceeding the national average. Across the Country, heroin overdose death rates increased by 26% from 2013 to 2014 and have more than tripled since 2010. Deaths from overdoses of prescription drugs and heroin continue to be the leading cause of unintentional death for Americans, rising 14% from 2013 to 2014.
Officials have said that, at this level, opioids kill more people in Massachusetts than car accidents and guns. The state’s Emergency Rooms see four times the number of cases featuring heroin, compared to the rest of the country, according to the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
As reported by the CDC, the rate of death involving natural and semisynthetic opioid pain relievers, heroin, and synthetic opioids, other than methadone (e.g., fentanyl) increased 9%, 26%, and 80%, respectively in America. The sharp increase in deaths involving synthetic opioids, other than methadone, in 2014 coincided with law enforcement reports of increased availability of illicitly manufactured fentanyl, a synthetic opioid.
Why is this important? Recent news reports stemming from Massachusetts highlight the appearance of particularly potent, and fatal strains of designer heroin, such as “Hollywood Heroin”. Raynham police Chief James Donovan said he believes the high number of overdoses in the Raynham and Taunton areas was caused by heroin tainted with the powerful narcotic Fentanyl.
Fentanyl, a synthetic opiate that’s many times more powerful than heroin, was present in about 37 percent of the deaths, researchers have found. Klonopin, Xanax and other anti-anxiety benzodiazepines showed up in 13 percent of the Massachusetts overdose deaths.
In January 2016, several news agencies, including CNN, released information that claims 16 people overdosed on “Hollywood Heroin” in a single day in Brockton, and 8 deaths were recorded in 1 week because of the designer drug in surrounding towns including Holyoke, Chicopee and Springfield.
Some townspeople blame drug dealers from Boston and Providence for the heroin epidemic; others suspect the influence of addicted transients. “The heroin in New England, the vast majority of it, is sourced out of Colombia.” says Acting Special Agent in Charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration, Michael Ferguson. He says, “Poppy plants are grown and processed into heroin in Columbia. It’s then shipped or flown to Mexico. From there, Mexican cartels smuggle it across the vast southwest border into the United States, where it’s distributed through the highway system to major cities, including those to Massachusetts.”
Massachusetts cities with the largest ethnic populations have become focal points for drug distribution, including Lowell, Lawrence, Roxbury, Fall River, Lynn and Springfield. But as viewers across the country witnessed this December, as HBO premiered the eye-opening documentary “Heroin: Cape Cod, USA”, the victims who have been hardest hit hail from small towns and communities once believed to be safeguarded from such an epidemic.
Shot on the backdrop of one of Americas most cherished communities, “Heroin: Cape Cod, USA” chronicles several young addicts, highlighting the irony of their situation in the elevated region. The show paints a much more broad, accurate picture of today’s heroin problem in the United Staets, which has infiltrated into even the most highly regarded communities. The Boston Globe reported that half of the young adults in the film began abusing prescription pills after a car or motorcycle accident. “They’re soft-spoken and articulate, raised in well-to-do families,” the article illustrates.
The CDC recently released overdose statistics by demographic, and showed that of the nearly 50,000 overdose deaths that happened in this Country as a result of drug abuse, nearly 38,000 of those individuals were categorized as white, non-Hispanics. Comparatively, just over 4,000 were blacks and 3,500 were Hispanics. As it turns out, HBO’s attempt to exploit the irony of heroin hitting one of the nation’s most archetypal regions is a pattern that is being replicated across the country. One source claims that on the South Shore, an overdose claims a life every eight days. Rehab professionals have called heroin addiction a hijacking of the brain, which does not discriminate against race, ethnicity or social class.
Reuters reported in January 2015 that Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker unveiled a $27 million plan to increase the state’s capacity to treat drug addicts and reduce the stigma around addiction. Many law enforcement units have initiated programs that encourage users to turn themselves in for total amnesty. From there, they are able to access treatment rather than face incarceration. The government hopes that these coordinated efforts will help to reduce the overwhelming number of overdoses as well as help to lower the demand for the inexpensive drug in the region.
Most law enforcement units now carry Naxalone, a drug also known as Narcan, which can reverse the effects of a heroin overdose. Several reports have already itemized hundreds of lives saved throughout the State as a result of using Narcan injections in 2016 alone. At this rate, it is expected that several thousand cases, and life-saving outcomes, will be chronicled before the year is over. Some agencies have also employed “unmarked” police groups who help to respond to overdose calls and help crack down on trafficking. In addition, local units are working together with schools, hospitals and community organizations to increase the awareness, and offer help to those who are suffering.
As New England is combatting a massive explosion of heroin overdoses, it has simultaneously employed some of the most aggressive programs to help save the addicted, and stop the traffickers, forming a blueprint – an emergency plan of action – that has facilitated other states in adopting similar protocols in the wake of the heroin epidemic.