Heroin addiction and overdose continues to ravage lives across the region‚ with the latest spotlight to fall on Haverhill as one of the focal points of the epidemic.
There have been more than 130 heroin overdoses in Essex County this year with 22 of that number reported in Haverhill. And that deadly count may rise to 24 with the recent deaths of a husband and wife in Bradford, found by their 8- and 10-year-old children the morning of Dec. 6. Police are investigating whether heroin was involved in the deaths.
Haverhill has been running second only to Lynn in the reporting of heroin overdoses. But the heroin problem appears to be accelerating here as the year comes to a close. While Gloucester has seen three overdose deaths in 2014, emergency communications report police as responding to apparent cases of overdoses involving heroin and other opiate several times per week — and it may be only due to the fact that all Gloucester emergency crews carry nasal Narcan — a drug that can temporarily reverse opiate overdose symptoms — that the city’s own death toll isn’t higher.
In Haverhill, the deaths of the Bradford couple — the woman 36 years old, the man, 39 — are suspected to have been among six heroin overdoses that weekend. Haverhill police on their Facebook page reported 11 heroin overdoses since Thanksgiving.
Police across the region suspect the heroin problem is growing worse as the drug becomes more affordable and its purity increases. Dealers are also mixing their heroin with other narcotics, making a more potent dose that may catch inexperienced users unaware.
The expansion of heroin addiction and death, as well as the related crime associated with drug abuse, calls for a concerted, communitywide response — and that a full-fledged community response on the regional level.
Haverhill School Committee member Scott Wood has been among those leading the call for such a response. Wood also notes that heroin use is no long confined to those on the fringes of society. The abuse of the drug, sadly, is becoming more mainstream.
That’s also been apparent here in Gloucester, where the local activists like Kathy Day and Gary Langis have raised awareness of the toll on our community through an annual vigil giving family members and other residents the chance to remember those who have been lost. And Langis has taken gone out of his way to advocate not only for an increased use and stocking of Narcan by emergency departments, but the issuance of the drug to families of those considered at risk.
That’s a move that has had the backing of Gov. Deval Patrick, and was a focal point of the discussion when Public Health Commissioner Cheryl Bartlett visited Gloucester and joined local lawmakers and other officials in a roundtable discussion at Cruiseport in October.
But as Essex County’s heroin death toll continues to mount, it’s clear that this will take an ongoing, concerted effort on the part of law enforcement to break dealers’ networks, an expansion of treatment options to help the addicted and the full support of communities, from Gloucester to Lynn, Haverhill and even north into New Hampshire.
Let’s all get behind efforts to get this type of regional assault in place. This remains a battle that we cannot afford to lose.