The scourge of heroin addiction has hit home the past week with a rash of deaths and overdoses in Charlestown and across the region according to Boston Police. The recent deaths showed the neighborhood is not immune to the growing epidemic and the drug has seemed to become more dangerous due to its purity than in recent years.
On Tuesday, Mayor Martin Walsh joined public health and safety officials to announce a series of community-based workshops in Charlestown to help residents navigate the substance abuse system of care in the city. Mayor Walsh outlined plans for the city and its partners to hold community health fairs throughout February in targeted neighborhoods that see a disproportionate amount of substance abuse.
In his first major policy announcement related to the issue, a top priority of his administration, the Mayor called for all first responders in Boston to carry the opiate overdose reversal medication commonly known as Narcan, which reverses the effects of a heroin overdose. All EMTs and paramedics from Boston EMS, a bureau of the Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC), already carry the medication and have used it to successfully reverse countless overdoses. Under Mayor Walsh’s proposal, the BPHC would expand the training that it has offered in the past to members of the Boston Police and begin training members of the Boston Fire Department so that all first responders have access to Narcan.
“There’s a stigma around drug and alcohol addiction that keeps too many people from getting the help they desperately need, and that has to change,” Walsh said. “I know the battle against addiction can’t be won alone. Increasing access to education and treatment options is one of the best things we can do to combat the stigma and give people a fighting chance at recovery.”
The workshops coming to Charlestown will provide interested residents with overdose prevention training, information on how to access Narcan, an overview of the substance abuse system of care in Boston, assistance with accessing services, and the opportunity to meet with neighborhood substance abuse coalitions.
Police detectives are comparing samples of the drug from all over the city, especially those that have resulted in overdoses and deaths.
But it is not just Charlestown suffering and the increase in deaths have become a regional problem affecting neighboring communities like Winthrop, Revere and Lynn and even the suburbs where State Police put out a warning recently warning of a strong batch of heroin that has hit the streets in suburbs around Metro Boston.
Between 2010 and 2012, unintentional drug overdoses increased by 39% in the city of Boston. Heroin and prescription drug overdoses are on the rise among White, Black, and Latino residents. There was a 76% increase in the rate of heroin overdoses between 2010 and 2012, higher than the rate of increase for other substances. The rate of prescription drug overdoses, meanwhile, rose by 38% from 2009 to 2012.
As of last week, Boston EMS had administered Narcan 52 times since the beginning of the year compared to 41 times between the same time period in 2013.
The increase in Heroin overdoses comes in addition to the increase in opiate painkiller abuse several years ago.
A lot of addicts have switched to heroin once they become addicted to the opiate OxyContin because heroin is very pure these days and in some cases costs only $3.50 a bag.
The problem with OxyContin abuse is the cost. In order to feed a daily habit, abusers will resort to stealing the drugs or committing other crimes, like dealing the painkiller to get their fix. Many times abusers realize they can get the same ‘rush’ from the cheaper and more widely available drug heroin and switch to this street narcotic in order to get high. Again this leads to more crime in the neighborhood as abusers frequently commit robberies or home invasions to fund their habit and more are now dying.