Part 1: Wasted Youth/Deadly Surge
Drug use ravaged the region in the past year, sending dozens of people to their deaths and thousands more to the hospital, in what one expert called an “epidemic” that will continue for years.
Fifty-four people died of opioid overdoses within 12 months in the greater Brockton-Taunton area, The Enterprise has found. Of those, 39 died from heroin overdoses, and the other 15 from oxycodone, the chief ingredient in the highly addictive painkiller OxyContin.
That means more than four people a month, on average, died of opioid overdoses in the time period just examined by The Enterprise — Aug. 31, 2006-Aug. 31, 2007 — compared with the slightly more
And, several said, the death toll will keep rising.
“We will continue to see more overdoses for some time,” said June Stansbury, special agent in charge of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's Boston field office. “The fact that we are seeing more overdoses means there is an increase in usage.”
Dr. David L. Rosenbloom, a renowned substance abuse expert from Boston University, said the area is in the middle of an epidemic ignited by the powerful drug OxyContin, and fueled by cheaper heroin.
“The results of that epidemic will, unfortunately, play out for a number of years,” Rosenbloom said.
The Enterprise, in the four-part series, “Wasted Youth,” published earlier this year, reviewed death certificates filed between Jan. 1, 2004, and Aug. 31, 2006, and discovered 74 people — many teens or young adults — died of overdoses from heroin. Sixteen others during that time died from oxycodone overdose.
The paper went back this year and found the picture even bleaker.
The latest review of death certificates brings the total dead from heroin and oxycodone overdoses to 144 for the past 31/2 years.
Equally frightening, The Enterprise found, is the growing number of deaths tied to fentanyl, a synthetic opioid 80 times more powerful than morphine that some dealers are mixing with heroin. Fentanyl has been blamed for hundreds of deaths in the country.
In the most recent 12 months examined by the newspaper:
Sixteen separate overdose deaths locally were tied to fentanyl — or one, on average, every 11/2 months. That is more than the total number of fentanyl-related local deaths — 13 — in the 2 years prior. About one-quarter of all the overdose victims were age 25 or under. Many more were under 30. The number of admissions due to the use of opioids increased at nearly all of the local hospitals last year, according to the state. At Brockton Hospital, there were 448 admissions last year compared with 331 in 2005. At Jordan Hospital in Plymouth, there were 98 admissions compared with 79 a year earlier. Local courts saw a surge in families asking judges to send their loved ones to locked treatment centers last year. Civil commitments increased 16 percent in the state in 2006 and rose again this year.
And the number of people seeking treatment for opiate addiction keeps rising.
“There is no let up,” said Jim Kenney, program director for the High Point women's addiction treatment center in New Bedford. “Parents continue to be scared to death that they are going to find their child dead of an overdose.”
Those parents and their children come from everywhere, from the suburbs of Hanover to the streets of Brockton.
Michael Sharpe, 23, of Hanover was one of those young people who died.
“Hanover is a small town. In Michael's graduating class, there were only like 100 kids and he is not the first of them to die of drugs,” said his mother, Holly Wainwright.
Abington Police Chief David Majenski said heroin addiction can strike any family, anywhere. “These are good families, these are strong families,” Majenski said.
One Abington girl, the daughter of a minister who is now in recovery, told a forum at Abington High School that she used to get high in the back of class. Six people have died of heroin overdoses in Abington since 2004, and there were 160 hospitalizations for the drug. Other communities are seeing similar numbers.
In East Bridgewater, there were 112 hospitalizations for opioids between 2004 and 2006. In Easton, there were 132. In Rockland, 181. In Brockton, there were 1,297 hospitalizations in the course of three years. Even in sparsely populated Plympton, there were 11.
OxyContin use — and fears of eventual heroin use — is part of a national problem. OxyContin use among young people increased 30 percent between 2002 and 2007, according to a federal study released this week. Heroin use rose slightly between 2006 and 2007, according to the study.