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Addiction in Franklin County

Narcotic overdoses kill more than murder, crashes

Recorder/Paul Franz
Dr. Ruth Potee counts empty packets of Suboxone, a drug for people addicted to opiates, to ensure her patient is taking the drug in the proper dosage.

Recorder/Paul Franz Dr. Ruth Potee counts empty packets of Suboxone, a drug for people addicted to opiates, to ensure her patient is taking the drug in the proper dosage.

Good figures on the incidence of drug overdose deaths are hard to come by, but state figures from 2010 indicate that six area — including all Franklin County towns and Athol — residents died that year of causes related to the broad category of narcotics.

By contrast, in the same year, three residents died in car accidents and two were murdered. Suicide outweighed each of these categories, claiming 10 in the same area.

Franklin County’s narcotics death rate was similar to the state average that year — 0.8 percent of deaths related to narcotics compared to 0.9 percent statewide. The Department of Public Health includes in the narcotics category everything from cannabis to LSD.

The federal Drug Abuse Warning Network, a public health surveillance system monitoring drug-related hospital emergency visits and drug-related deaths investigated by medical examiners and coroners, offers slightly different numbers.

According to the latest DAWN report, there were six drug-related deaths and three drug-related suicides in Franklin County in 2010. Franklin county’s drug-related death rate of 8.4 per 100,000 was lower than its neighbors in the Springfield metropolitan area, with a rate of 15.1 in Hampden and 11.5 in Hampshire.

Greenfield physician Dr. Ruth Potee, who treats addicts, bristled at the suggestion that opioids are merely an occasional killer.

“It’s not people every now and then dying. I tell you,” she said, contending that nearly all of the people in The Recorder’s obituary columns under the age of 30 are likely to have died of an overdose.

Statewide, a report compiled by a special commission convened by the Legislature in 2009 sounded a sour note about the danger of opiate addiction and related deaths in the state.

Citing the 645 residents listed as dying from an opioid-related overdose in 2007, the report said “This is a conservative estimate, as often times other causes of death are listed on a death certificate.”

The OxyContin and Heroin Commission report labeled opiate addiction as a “serious and dangerous epidemic” in the state.

“Prescription drug use is skyrocketing, opioid overdose deaths are steadily increasing and while support for these addiction treatment programs has increased, it is not sufficient to meet the needs of this growing problem,” read the report.

“Between 2002 and 2007 the Commonwealth lost 78 soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq. In the same time period, 3,265 Massachusetts residents died of opiate-related overdoses. The commonwealth is losing men and women on its streets at a rate of 42 to 1 compared to what the state is losing in two wars overseas.”

In the broadest strokes, 1 percent of all Massachusetts deaths in 2010 were opioid-related, based on figures from that year’s Department of Public Health death report.

In 2010, DPH reports, statewide 620 people died of a drug overdose — 555 with cause of death related to opioids. Of these 555 deaths, 95 percent were overdoses of accidental or undetermined intent and the remainder suicides.

In contrast, 380 people died in vehicular accidents and 266 died of gunshots.

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