Gov. Baker, DA Ryan Unveil Plans To Combat Opiate Abuse In Tewksbury And Across The State
Feb 22, 2015 11:52PM ● Published by Bill Gilman
Heroin, cocaine, cash and other items seized in a recent Tewksbury drug bust
Thursday, Gov. Charlie Baker unveiled "An Act To Limit Access To Opiates," legislation that calls for County by County tracking data of opiate prescriptions and overdoses. It is hoped that the tracking data will help combat the problem of addicts getting multiple prescriptions from multiple doctors and have the prescriptions filled at multiple pharmacies across the state.
Baker also announced the formation of a 16-member task force to battle the problem of opiate addiction and overdose deaths. The task force will be known as the Opioid Addiction Working Group, and will be led by Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders. The group will also include Atty. Gen. Maura Healy, law enforcement officials, doctors and experts in addiction prevention, treatment and recovery.
"These medications can provide great relief for many patients, including those tormented by debilitating chronic pain or suffering in their last days of life," said Baker. "But we need to make sure prescribing is appropriate."
Opiate addiction has been a growing epidemic in Tewksbury and throughout the Merrimack Valley. According to Police Chief Timothy Sheehan, officers responded to more than 60 opiate overdose incidents in 2014.
The first overdose death locally took place on Feb. 4. In that case, Tewksbury police officers responded to a 911 call and found a man dead in his home of an apparent heroin overdose. Officers found a syringe, plastic baggie ties, a spoon, and other drug paraphernalia next to the body.
Sheehan said the number of overdose deaths would be far greater if Tewksbury police officers and firefighters did not carry with them the opiate antagonist drug naloxone, which has been used dozens of times to revive overdose patients.
The Tewksbury Police Department Narcotics Division has made several drug trafficking arrests over the past year in an effort to keep heroin and other drugs out of Tewksbury. But Sheehan acknowledges law enforcement can't solve the problem on its own.
"It is both discouraging and tragic that it is hard to find someone who is not connected in some way to someone else who is suffering as a result of an opiate addiction," said Sheehan. "We realize we will not arrest our way out of this epidemic and that law enforcement is only one ingredient in the recipe for success. Without awareness, understanding, education, support and treatment services, and most importantly collaboration we will lose this battle."
Sheehan said for the past three years his department has partnered with several substance abuse prevention and treatment nonprofit resources in the Greater Lowell area and that the collaborative efforts have "changed the way we do business as an organization and as a community."
Middlesex County District Attorney Marian Ryan has also taken aggressive steps in recent weeks to tackle the opiate epidemic in the region. Ryan and state Sen. Eileen Donoghue, D-Lowell, founded the Lowell Opiate Task Force, with the goal of taking "a community-wide approach to preventing overdose deaths."
The LOTF includes officials from area law-enforcement agencies, health-care providers, educational institutions, human-service non-profits, and lawmakers. The group meets regularly to discuss how to best share their knowledge and collaboratively work on drug prevention initiatives in Greater Lowell.
But Ryan also issued a grave warning concerning two brand new drug-related threats.
In a recent press release, Ryan announced that toxicology results from autopsies on several drug overdose victims in Middlesex County over the past few weeks have revealed that the deceased had taken fentanyl-laced heroin. Fentanyl is an opioid, which may be thirty times more powerful than heroin. In most cases, the addict does not realize that their heroin has been spiked.
The second new danger is a new synthetic chemical drug, NBOIMe – often referred to as “N-bomb.”
According to Ryan, N-bomb is illegal under federal drug laws but is not yet classified as a controlled substance in Massachusetts. Ryan said police have seen evidence that the drug is being used by teenagers involved in crimes and experts believe many young adults are unaware of how lethal this hallucinogen is and unaware that the synthetic chemical drug can cause death.
Ryan has worked with state Rep. Cory Atkins to drat legislation that would amend state drug law to include three forms of NBOMe as Class B Substances. If passed by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Baker, the amendment would enable police to seize the drug when it is found in someone’s possession and to investigate distribution, which is often arranged via online transactions.