Opiate related deaths are being reported with increased frequency throughout the state. Three died in Taunton in the last month and one in Attleboro last week. Two people overdosed in Salisbury on Wednesday. There is increased attention to these incidents since Oscar-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman was found dead with a needle in his arm in his New York City apartment Sunday.
The deaths are being related to a “bad batch” of heroin. In addition to the usual risks of utilizing the drug, users are at additional risk from the chemicals used to dilute or “cut” each dose. Dealers regularly add other chemicals that look like heroin to the supply to increase their profit. One of the chemicals used is fentanyl, a very potent tranquilizer used by hospitals and medical professionals as a pain killer. Fentanyl is reported to be anywhere from 10 to 100 times stronger than heroin.
Fentanyl is a prescription narcotic used to relieve severe or chronic pain, commonly used for cancer patients or as a last-resort pain medication. It’s available as a skin patch, lozenge, pill, shot, a film that dissolves in the mouth, or intravenously.
Using two local small towns as examples, Attleboro police report that previously they would get one or two overdose calls a month, but for the past two weeks, they have been getting at least one a day. Nearby Taunton reports that for much of 2013, police had typically gotten between two and five nonfatal overdose calls a week. Between Jan. 8 and Feb. 4, police report they have fielded 33 calls, including the three fatals. There was also a fatal overdose on Dec. 15.
The state department of public health reports that Statewide opioid-related deaths, which include overdoses of heroin and prescription drugs, nearly doubled between 2000 and 2011, rising from 363 to 642. A similar problem located more in sections of the North Shore, was reported last year.
Our friends at MOAR remind us that with the new Good Samaritan law in Massachusetts, you may now call 911 to obtain help for an opiate overdose without fear of repercussions. And with the opiate antidote Narcan now readily available, there is no reason for anyone to die from heroin use.