Facing heroin head on

On April 9, 2014, in Latest News, by The Somerville Times

By Sarah L. Hopkinson

Less than two weeks ago, Somerville police arrested a man carrying 114 grams of heroin and 68 grams of cocaine, all trafficked drugs he was believed to be bringing into the city to sell. This arrest is a small step forward in local authorities’ attempts to fight the heroin pandemic troubling the city. Since January 2013, authorities have witnessed a dangerous upward trend in the incidence of heroin overdoses in Somerville. According to Michael Cabral, the deputy chief of the Somerville Police Department, in little over a year, there have been seven fatal heroin overdoses and 21 non-fatal overdoses – this averages out at two per month. This trend is part of a nationwide resurgence that the federal Drug Enforcement Agency is tracking and which includes New York City, Pittsburg, Vermont – and now Somerville.

Although authorities are unable to identify the reason for this recent resurgence in both heroin use and overdose, the potency of certain batches of heroin may be a contributing factor. Police have been finding that a large proportion of heroin being used and dealt in Somerville is cut with fentanyl, an opiate about 30 to 50 times stronger than heroin and therefore more dangerous. At the beginning of the year, there were 22 recorded overdose deaths in Pittsburg from heroin mixed with fentanyl.

The arrest made last Friday by the Somerville police may help to curtail the prevalence of heroin in the city, but, as Cabral says, arrests are never going to cure this problem.

“The police department realizes that you cannot arrest your way out of this problem,” he said. “Therefore, we are making an effort to work in conjunction with other city agencies in a collaborative effort to educate, enforce and assist in any way we can. We realize that this problem affects a lot of families, and we are now training our police officers in Narcan use in the hopes that we may be able to save a life.”

Cabral spoke at an event Tuesday (April 8) in Somerville to warn people about how dangerous heroin mixed with fentanyl is. The event was hosted by the Somerville Department of Health and is part of a citywide program, “How To Save A Life,” to tackle heroin abuse in the area. The informational event also featured Jan Kauffman, vice president of addiction treatment at North Charles Inc., who talked about how to recognize and treat heroin addiction, and the Somerville Fire Department.

“How To Save A Life” is a program funded by a $100,000 grant by the Massachusetts Department of Health and involves a variety of community providers, such as Somerville Department of Health, the Office of Prevention, the Somerville Fire Department, Teen Empowerment and the Somerville Police Department. The program seeks to educate Somerville residents about heroin abuse, how to treat it and how to administer Narcan – the drug to counteract overdose. The Somerville Police Department is training all of its officers in how to administer the drug.

Although education, community outreach and preventative measures will hopefully go a long way in tackling this increasingly widespread problem, there are other, more decisive measures that will play an important role. For instance, the Somerville Police Department is combining the efforts of their narcotics unit, gang unit and detective unit to try and understand the problem and is sending more officers out to investigate heroin-related deaths. Detectives are performing follow-up investigations on both fatal and non-fatal overdoses to find out where users are getting their heroin from and if it is laced with fentanyl.

Because of these increased and coordinated efforts, police were able to arrest a possible drug dealer last Friday and remove a substantial amount of narcotics from the street. According to Cabral, this is one of a number of arrests the narcotics unit has made in the past few months and, although aware this will not solve the problem, indicates that increased efforts are working.

However, the resurgence of a highly addictive drug is deeply worrying for city authorities and residents. Although Somerville has no statistics with which to compare those recorded since January 2013, police have noted increases in the last few months alone. Gov. Deval Patrick declared a statewide public health emergency March 27 due to the growing numbers of opioid overdoses and, thanks to efforts undertaken under the “How To Save A Life” and by public services such as the police department, Somerville is taking steps to tackle it.


13 Responses to “Facing heroin head on”

  1. Me says:

    “This arrest is a small step forward in local authorities’ attempts to fight the heroin pandemic troubling the city”

    This is a tired old drug warrior line that is been proven over and over that it is incorrect. How many drug dealers are currently behind bars? Have any of those ‘small steps forward’ helped?

  2. wth says:

    The local authorities are doing all they can. It’s up to the federal government to stop the flow of drugs into the country, and go after the big dealers.

  3. Recovering addict says:

    I was there and I would have liked to hear more about treatment and programs rather than the 45+ slide show on methadone. I’m not against maintance drugs but I know very few that they’ve worked for. If the city wants to get more in touch with what’s really going on out there and what works they need to start reaching out to recovering addicts and find out what worked for them and start listening. Band-aids just aren’t cutting it anymore. It also disturibes me a bit that that the police said they were just recently informed of the fentanyl laced heroin. It’s been a well known among addicts for over a year that it’s been around.

  4. addiction warrior says:

    I agree with you, recovering addict. I think there are some people in the city addressing this problem who don’t really get it. The presentation on methadone and suboxone was interesting, but felt a little like a sales pitch. And the information is not really useful since addicts don’t have the luxury of picking and choosing what treatment program they will get into. You go wherever you can get a bed, plain and simple. And you consider yourself lucky to get that bed no matter where it is or what type of program.

  5. something we can do now says:

    instead of waiting for the Feds/State/City to stop the flow of drugs, which will probably never happen, why don’t people focus on the reasons young people are using? deal with this, and the the flow dries up. remove the customers!

  6. MarketMan says:

    something we can do now: the kids are using for a variety of reasons, but on is that they use for the same reason people drink alcohol. it starts off as entertainment. if adults can’t show by example that they can enjoy life and have fun without alcohol or drugs, then kids won’t get the message either.

  7. Brian says:

    Not as easy as it sounds, although better mental health care would help. But you can never predict future behavior. What we need now for addicts is more and better treatment. We have a long way to go in truly addressing the treatment needs of those with substance use disorder.

  8. The problem, as I see it is obvious–

    As we are being directly weakened economically, personally. locally and nationally–our kids don’t have what it takes to stand on their feet and so they turn to drugs as a way to cope with their problems.

    Many would argue that it’s not so for those who are living in wealthy households–but it still comes down to the same reason.

    We as a society have traded our moral obligations for the quick fix–

    Few today are willing to put the time into themselves in order to enjoy the, “fruits of our labor”. Everything has to be now, today, not tomorrow.

    I see this issue coming from a different place–Banking and Corporations have masterminded deliberate take-down of working class and middle class societies. If you look at the greater picture you can see–more and more, people are shredding their value system which keeps them strong.

    Just think–if we were able to get rid of all the things that make us vulnerable, we would be able to achieve greatness.

    It’s intentionally done so the 1% can keep growing until there is nothing left. Don’t expect anyone to show you who’s at the top of the big money pile. I might be in the least likely of places.

  9. elephant in the room says:

    with the thoughts that more bed/treatment availability would solve the problem, I’ll bring up the elephant in the room……the number of addicts who get that room and walk away from treatment. when you can’t get a slot, it may have been taken by someone who’s just gonna walk. wasting treatment dollars and discouraging new funding for treatment. when you’ve walked away 4, 5, times it’s really not fair to scream about the lack of slots available. It’s pie in the sky stuff to think a slot should be available when you want even though you’ve wasted crucial treatment dollars.

  10. Brian says:

    Ah, elephant in the room, a perfect example of the stigma and misconceptions regarding addiction. Addiction is a chronic lifelong disease which re-wires your brain. Until you have received long-term treatment, the substance is in charge of your head and is telling you what to do. That’s why long-term inpatient treatment is so crucial to recovery. Would you say the same of a patient scheduled for surgery who changes their mind about the procedure? Most addiction treatment facilities are one-size-fits-all, which doesn’t necessarily work for all. We need to have more treatment facilities and also more choice as to type of treatment to better deal with this epidemic.

  11. disease says:

    if you want to compare to any other disease–if you walk before your heart surgery (your entitled to) the Doc will bluntly say you’re gonna die if you don’t get this. if you do that a second time, they’ll tell you to find a new doc. after the surgery you can go to cardiac rehab. not the one you like or the approach you want, the one your insurance covers. when you’re done with the rehab, you will not be offered subsidized housing, or transportation to and from your appointments like, at least in Massachusetts you get. you will not be excused from work for life. once you’re cleared, they’re all done with you. I don’t know if any heart/liver/cancer patients have knocked over a 7-11 and terrified a clerk to continue their lifestyle of avoiding treatment

  12. wth says:

    I am very happy for you that you know so little about addiction. it means that you have never had the need to deal with it. it is a brain disease. Blaming a substance user for their actions is like blaming a schizophrenic for their behavior. If you had ever known someone with addiction you would know that not one of them wants to live that way. Not one.

  13. wth,

    I agree, there are many people who are ignorant of chemical dependency. Unless the person has been personally effected, they fall into the trap of stereotyping those who suffer. Last week, in East Somerville, I attended a meeting on, “How to save a life from opioid addiction”. I learned some things I didn’t know about oxy and heroin– how one creates a direct link to the other.

    How does one person become dependent on a drug, while others don’t? I would guess that it varies according to individuals–but the same could be said for alcoholism. Why isn’t alcoholism demonized as drug dependency? People who are chronic alcoholics go through similar brain malfunctioning as those who do drugs.

    Some would argue it’s really not the same, but they are all viewed as addictions by medical professionals and researchers–“alcohol addiction”, “drug addiction”.

    Haven’t people died from alcohol poisoning? I realize heroin is far more fast acting lethal and not as easily understood as other drugs. For instance, I learned that heroin hijacks the brain, is much more invasive than other drugs. People who are on it for long periods of time can never regain their previous, otherwise healthy, state of mind.

    For whatever reason the young impressionable teen will take the risk of doing heroin–only they can answer.

    Isn’t it important that we begin listening to our teens and find ways to help them avoid the dangerous world of addiction? After hearing comments at the meeting, I really understand how difficult it is for the person dependent and family members who try to help.

    Until we start learning to treat addiction as the disease it is–ignorance and apathy will be doing just as much damage as the substance itself.

    For some, I guess addiction is a way of giving up on oneself, numbing the emotional pain and physical, so why as a society aren’t we doing more to save lives?

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