19 heroin deaths
State Police release numbers for Franklin, Hampshire counties since Nov. 1
The State Police Tuesday released heroin overdose death statistics, identifying western Massachusetts as among the regions of larger concentrations.
The number of fatal overdoses since Nov. 1 is at least 185 statewide, counting those deaths the state police are aware of and excluding three of the state’s larger cities.
The combined Franklin and Hampshire county area saw 19 suspected heroin overdose deaths in that time.
Statistics narrowed to Franklin County could not be obtained. The numbers were reported by the state police detective units attached to the offices of the district attorneys. Franklin County is unusual in that it shares a DA with neighboring Hampshire County, and the Worcester County town of Athol.
Nineteen heroin overdose deaths regionally in a nearly four-month period would be a significant increase over two years ago, the most recent period for which official numbers are available.
The area lost 16 residents to any variety of overdoses in all of 2011, the latest year for which Department of Public Health data is available.
Franklin County lost six residents to overdoes in 2011, Hampshire lost seven and Athol lost three.
The state police said they released these new statewide statistics because of press inquiries brought on by growing awareness of an upswing in heroin use and overdoes in the Northeast in recent months.
“As you can see, of the 185 deaths attributed to heroin overdoses in that time period, there are large concentrations in southeastern Mass., the Merrimack Valley, and western Mass. hill town counties. (You will also see a high number in Middlesex County, which is expected because that is the largest county geographically, I believe),” wrote State Police Director of Media Relations David Procopio.
Procopio wrote a new case management and tracking system provided the four-month data, and comparative data were not available.
“Our experience and accumulated knowledge, however, indicates that these numbers absolutely represent an increased rate of fatal heroin overdoses,” Procopio wrote.
The state police report identified four possible contributing factors: a very potent strain of heroin, suppliers cutting heroin with a synthetic substance, perhaps powerful painkiller Fentanyl, use of heroin with other drugs such as prescription painkiller Percocet, and the fact that heroin is easier for user to obtain than prescription narcotics.
“We are continuing to investigate and analyze the problem in conjunction with our local police partners. We firmly believe that it is a problem that cannot be solved solely by arrests, although street enforcement is vital,” Procopio wrote.
According to the release, state police do not lead death investigations in Springfield, Worcester and Boston, and statistics for these towns were not included.
The following is the fatal heroin overdose breakdown per county, from November 2013 to this week:
∎ Berkshire: 2
∎ Bristol: 34
∎ Cape & Islands: 9
∎ Essex: 22
less Springfield: 12
∎ Hampshire/Franklin: 19
∎ Middlesex: 30
∎ Norfolk: 15
∎ Plymouth: 20
∎ Suffolk, less Boston: 10
∎ Worcester County,
less City of Worcester: 1
You can reach Chris Curtis at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-772-0261, ext. 257