WINTHROP – A group addressing heroin and opiod addiction in several communities, including Winthrop, updated the Town Council on its next steps to help reduce the number of overdoses in town and help get addicts into recovery.
According to the Massachusetts Opiod Abuse Prevention Collaborative (MOAPC) there has been a 25 percent increase in fatal overdoses in Winthrop from 2003-2012. In addition, a risk assessment survey given found that 5 percent of Winthrop High School students have admitted to trying heroin. Meredith Hurley, the Winthrop public nurse, said that surprisingly the overdoses have been in the 45-64 year old age group.
“That’s not what people think about as a heroin addict,” said Council Vice President Nicholas DelVento.
“Perhaps because they are using in isolation and not with other people,” Hurley said. She added that because some opiods are medical prescriptions there tends to be apathy.
One of the latest weapons in fighting overdoses and getting people on the road to recovery has been the use of Narcan. It is injected into an overdose victim and blocks the opiate receptor sites. It can completely or partially reverse the effects of narcotics. Fire Chief Paul Flanagan said in one year, with two ambulances covering a town 1.6 miles square, Narcan has been used 12 times.
Hurley said that currently there is a high demand and a shortage of Narcan. First responders are frustrated with the shortage, especially when they have used Narcan two or three times on the same person. Councilor Linda Calla asked if Narcan is a safety net for some people. Julia Newhall, the Revere Public Health nurse said no and explained that it is like any other disease. She noted a 21-year-old who had had Narcan used on him13-14 times. Now he is in recovery and sharing his story with others.
“It gives an option to get into recovery and it’s about saving lives,” Newhall said.
“We need to be out there and offering services,” Milano said. “We hope to expand to have a Narcan drop-in access center (in Winthrop). There is now one in Revere once a week.”
According to Patricia Milano, director of the collaborative, which includes Revere, Chelsea, Saugus and Winthrop, the use and abuse of heroin and opiods (such as the prescription painkiller Percocet) touches every community. Working with the collaborative is a local group of concerned citizens. Funded by a grant from the Bureau of Substance Abuse under the Massachusetts Department of Health.
The collaborative has had a medication take-back day, worked with the fire and police departments to get Narcan and the necessary training. It is working on a drop-in center, peer educators and recovery coaches.