Overdoses from heroin and other opioids are on the rise in Somerville and police and other agencies are fighting back with more than arrests.
During the first three months of 2015, at least six people died; double the number who died in all of 2013, according to the Somerville Police Department.
“One is too many,” Somerville Police Chief David Fallon told Somerville Neighborhood News (SNN). “Think about the loss of potential to the community, how that effects the family, the immediate family. It’s devastating.”
The police reports show opioids overdoses in 2014, mostly from heroin, were almost four times the number in 2013. That year, there are 20 overdoses, three of them fatal. In 2014, the number jumped to 76, 13 of them were fatal.
In terms of the demographic characteristics, 80 percent of the overdose victims are male; more than half – 57 percent – are between the age of 20 to 34, and 95 percent are white.
Police arrest and incident reports show that overdoses and used needles come from across the city, but some neighborhoods have more incidents than others.
Overdoses are mostly concentrated in the Lower Broadway neighborhood and around Union Square and Davis Square. Many arrests are made in the Lower Broadway neighborhood and the parking lot of the Home Depot, but there have also been arrests at the Davis Square Starbucks.
Fallon told SNN that the department knows it will take more than arrests to deal with the epidemic.
“We’re training our officers how to deal with people with opioid addiction issues,” he said. “We want to give the officers the tools on the street to step away from arrest: ‘How can I get this person that’s addicted to opioid, at risk of OD-ing or at risk of death, into the system that’s going to help him to get a bed and help him get treatment, help his family to understand the issue?’ That’s what we’re moving towards in Somerville.”
The heroin and opioid epidemic is by no means exclusive to Somerville. State health officials recently noted that over 1,000 people died of heroin and other opioid overdoses last year; more than the deaths caused by car accidents and guns together.
“Why there is an increase? Is heroin more potent today? Are there different cutting agents that they’re using, such as fentanyl?” he asked. “Life in general – is it harder today? Are people more anxious in their life and turning to drugs to help cope with that? Or does it start with prescription drugs?”
“I think you have to really approach the problem from a lot different angles,” he said, “because there is not that one answer to ‘why.’”
This is the first in a series of reports.