Drug ODs on the rise

GREENFIELD — In the first two weeks of 2014, Greenfield police saw an eight-fold increase in heroin or other opiate overdoses over the same period last year. It remains to be seen whether this is a brief spike or the new norm.

According to numbers compiled by Detective Lt. Daniel McCarthy, Greenfield police in the first 14 days of this year responded to eight overdoses, said Chief Robert Haigh Jr. All eight were related to heroin or opiate abuse and one proved fatal.

Last year, Greenfield police logged a single, fatal, overdose in the same time period and 35 fatal or non-fatal overdoses in the entire year.

Of the 35, 23 were related to ether heroin or painkillers, Hague said, and two were fatal.

By means of comparison, Greenfield would be on track to see 208 opiate overdoses and 26 deaths in 2014, if the two-week figures were representative of a trend. Greenfield lost one resident to an overdose of any variety of drug in 2010, and two in 2011, the latest figures available through the Mass. Department of Public Health.

“(It’s) unfortunate, but I think it just goes to show what the real problem is out there right now,” Haigh said.

Haigh said pills and heroin have been at fault. Recently, Greenfield doctor Ruth Potee said she has heard from two overdose survivors that they believed they had taken an unusually strong dose of heroin, and the Deerfield chief of police has said he believes a bad batch of heroin, whether lethally pure or impure, is at fault in two recent overdoses.

Greenfield police have logged two reported overdoses since the numbers were compiled, a possible overdose in which the patient was revived through CPR, and a probable heroin overdose last Saturday. In the second call, a Department of Children and Families caseworker reported receiving a text from a male stating he may have overdosed on heroin and was vomiting blood.

The Greenfield Police Department numbers include medical calls later established to be overdoses or suspected overdoses, but does not include overdoses to which the department did not respond or which were not subsequently reported as overdoses after the patient was delivered to the hospital.

According to the death certificates on file in the Greenfield Town Clerk’s Office, three residents died of overdoses in roughly the first half of 2013. All three were men in their 40s or 50s, and all three died of accidental opiate overdoses.

“Acute heroin intoxication” is listed as the cause of death on two certificates, one combined with recent cocaine use. The third man died after ingesting an unspecified opiate.

Figures for the second half could not be gleaned as a large number of death certificates were filed with a cause of death listed as “pending.”

Heroin use is considered to have been in decline until a recent resurgence fueled by an abundance of prescription opiates and an increase in the purity of heroin such that the drug is now commonly snorted in powder form, particularly by new users.

Pill users also crush and snort, smoke or inject prescription opiates in order to skirt time-release properties.

There are 11 certificates for residents who died in 2013 with cause of death pending, most in their 40s and 50s and ranging in age from early 20s to mid-60s.

Franklin County Sheriff Christopher Donelan last week sent a letter to Gov. Deval Patrick asking for a state commitment to help the county in what he called an addiction crisis building in the community. Donelan wrote three young people had died in Franklin County of suspected heroin overdoses between Jan. 9 and 15.

Northwestern District Attorney David Sullivan said earlier this month his office was aware of seven suspected opioid overdose deaths in Hampshire and Franklin counties in the previous 30 days.

If confirmed by the medical examiner’s autopsy and toxicology reports, seven opioid overdose deaths in the course of a month would represent a significant increase over the combined numbers for the past three years.

According to the DPH death reports, the two counties lost a combined 13 residents to any variety of drug overdose in 2009 and 2011, 18 in 2010. If the seven lost in two counties in 30 days were representative of a trend, the two would be on track to see 2010’s unusually high number of deaths quadruple in 2014.

You can reach Chris Curtis at: ccurtis@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 257

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