By Katy Rogers
City officials said at a recent meeting that heroin on the street is getting much stronger, and that “saves” made with Narcan are requiring two to five doses of the anti-overdose drug now, where before it required just one does.
The news came at a meeting to address the concerns over the growing opioid epidemic was held at Everett City Hall on October 11.
Those in attendance included representatives from Mayor Carlo DeMaria’s office, The Everett Police, The Everett Fire Department, State Rep. Joe McGonagle, Council President John Hanlon, The Cambridge Health Alliance (CHA), The Board of Health, and Everett Overcoming Addiction.
Fire Chief Tony Carli shared that the department uses Narcan on an average of three times per week.
“We’ll actually go a week where we’ll have one overdose, and then another week where there will be five or six,” Carli shared, expressing that the numbers fluctuate for a variety of reasons – including the availability of heroin.
Kevin O’Donnell from the Mayor’s Office expressed that opioids seem to be getting stronger, saying, “The average is now about three doses [of Narcan] for a regular save, instead of one.”
With that, Chief Carli agreed.
“We have seen an increase in needing to use multiple doses,” he said. “We had an individual last week that required five doses before regaining consciousness.”
At the meeting, an outline was provided with opioid related information and statistics regarding Everett and the State of Massachusetts as a whole.
In Massachusetts, opioid related deaths have increased more than 350 percent since the year 2000. As of 2016, Everett was amongst several communities considered highly impacted by the crisis, and it received a $20,000 grant from the state Department of Public Health to provide Narcan to first responders. Everett Police and Fire confirmed that this has helped save many lives in the past months.
State Rep. Joe McGonagle was interested to hear that about one-third to half of the overdoses treated in Everett are not Everett residents.
Working with the state, he noticed the stigma that Everett is particularly problematic in the opioid scene. Since a lot of the calls are cases of people unconscious in motor vehicles from neighboring communities, this may be an unjust stereotype.
That said, it is unclear if this means that Everett is a community where there is an increased amount of opiate dealers dwelling.
Pattiann Scalesse, an activist in the community who voluntarily commits to helping Everett families deal with addiction with the organization Everett Overcoming Addiction, has developed a firsthand understanding of the personal struggles individuals face when fighting addiction.
From her perspective, she said she feels that the most important element in combatting the opioid crisis is education and community outreach.
“When they see a high amount of overdoses in a small time frame, they should alert the public to let them know they are paying attention and care,” she said. “This would let people who love someone struggling to keep checking on their loved ones.”
At the meeting she added that it would be helpful if they provided a regularly updated list of available beds for recovery to the public, something she does on her own daily via Facebook.
“Recovery is possible,” she stressed, emphasizing the importance of more resources to help people and their families.
The Everett Police share a similar sentiment in the importance of getting people help, however Lt. Strong said, “Contrary to popular belief, I still think the best way to help these kids is to arrest them and get them into the system. Most of the time they come back afterwards and say thank you for saving their life that day. I’m sure there’s a difference in opinion, but I think we should be doing more enforcement. I’m not saying we shouldn’t be doing treatment too, but we need more money for enforcement.”
As of now, there are no legal consequences for those who receive overdose help such as Narcan, and due to the nature of this cycle, it means many of them immediately return to drugs after treatment.
On the other hand, some said they feel that legal consequences may prevent people from calling for help when it is imperative to save their lives.
CHA reported that the city of Everett is working hard to receive all eligible grants to help combat this issue, including implanting more education in Everett Public Schools over the next several months.
While this uphill battle continues and there are no perfect solutions, it is clear that more needs to be done to address this issue through education, community outreach, and recovery resources. The Massachusetts Substance Abuse Helpline is 1-800-327-5050 and helpline-online.com.