By Peter Francis [email protected] | Posted 4 days ago
June 7, 2015
HAVERHILL — City leaders said they were aware Haverhill has a problem with overdoses from heroin and other drugs, but statistics showing the number of overdoses across the community is driving the point home.
The numbers have some city councilors calling for Haverhill to hire more drug abuse educators and counselors for schools, and also more police officers.
According to figures compiled by Trinity Emergency Medical Services, the ambulance company serving Haverhill, paramedics responded to 475 overdoses in Haverhill in 2014. Of them, 275 were the result of opiate abuse, in the form of heroin or strong painkillers such as Demerol, Oxycontin and Vicodin, the figures show.
The number of overdose responses in 2014 was up nearly 14 percent compared to the year before. Trinity logged 415 overdose responses in 2013, 192 of which were opiate-related, the figures show.
The statistics were presented recently to the City Council by members of the city’s Heroin Overdose Prevention and Education Task Force. The numbers paint a vivid picture of Haverhill’s opioid crisis and show the problem is concentrated in the city’s urban neighborhoods.
“Opioid overdoses account for 58 percent of overdoses, while overdoses in general have increased 13 percent (from 2013 to 2014),” said task force member Megan Shea, adding that opioid overdoses increased 30 percent during that time.
Drug problem crosses neighborhoods
Of the 275 opiate overdoses in 2014, 98 were suffered by females and 177 affected males, the report shows. The average age for opiate overdoses was 39 for females and 37 for males. In 2013, 75 females with an average age of 47 and 117 males with an average age of 47 overdosed from opiates in Haverhill.
The numbers show overdoses were concentrated in inner-city neighborhoods known for illegal drugs and street crime. According to the statistics, 65 opiate overdoses occurred in the Mount Washington area, 48 were in the lower Acre and 44 were in the downtown area. Mount Washington saw the biggest increase of any Haverhill neighborhood between 2013 and last year, jumping from 42 overdoses in 2013 to 65 last year.
Other neighborhoods which saw jumps of more than 10 overdoses included the lower Acre; the Highlands, which jumped from four in 2013 to 16 in 2014; and Central Bradford, which climbed from six in 2013 to 18 last year.
More affluent neighborhoods were also affected, supporting the theory that heroin use happens in all walks of life. West Parish, Walnut Square, the upper Acre and Ward Hill also saw increases of five or more overdose calls from 2013 to 2014, the numbers showed.
Kim Boisselle, chair of the task force, spoke with the council recently about the need for another full-time health teacher to impress students about the overdose problem and risks of drug use.
“Right now we have one health teacher for all the (middle) schools,” said Boisselle, adding the school system is in favor of hiring another teacher to help educate younger students about the dangers of opiates. “There are over 1,000 middle school students and it (the current teaching resources) is just not enough.”
School Committee President Scott Wood said he agrees the situation is not ideal. He said the part-time addiction and recovery specialist position created for the school district last year has been elevated to full time this year.
Wood said he isn’t certain one additional teacher would make a substantial difference.
“Do we need more in the health department? Sure,” he said. “But I think we could add one more addiction and recovery specialist until we could fund the health department at what it once was,” said Wood. “A specialist can work with students one-on-one, as well as in (events) in front of all students.”
Task force: Prescription drugs lead to heroin use
Shea told the council prescription drugs, not heroin, are the biggest concern of drug prevention activists because prescription drugs lead to heroin abuse.
She also highlighted data provided by the state’s Bureau of Substance Abuse Services for 2014 which shows 1,266 Haverhill residents were treated for addiction last year, a figure Shea believes is only the tip of the iceberg.
“Research says that one out of every 10 people needing treatment actually get into treatment,” she said. “We could be dealing with 10,000 people who are dealing with some form of addiction.”
Shea said Haverhill is one of the only cities in Essex County which has experienced a progressive increase in treatment admissions for substance abuse over the past four years. She also noted the resources for accessing treatment are scarce.
“We’ll get more data in the next few weeks and hopefully we’ll develop a sound picture of what’s happening and a strategy,” she said.
Councilor Colin LePage said he wants Mayor James Fiorentini to hire another health teacher, which Boiselle said was not included in the school district’s budget proposal for the upcoming year.
LePage also wants the mayor to hire more police officers.
“I know that we can’t arrest our way out of these problems and Band-Aids don’t work,” LePage said. “It’s escalating, but the problem has always been there and one part-time teacher is not enough for a problem that’s growing.”
Councilor Thomas Sullivan said he was “shocked” the school district had effectively done away with its health programs.
“We don’t just need one position,” he said. “We need a series of positions, instructors who provide programs more than once a year. We have to engage the kids and we have to engage them early.”
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