Conference Held in Greenfield to Discuss Opioid Abuse
GREENFIELD, Mass. (WGGB) – Opiate addiction is now an epidemic in the Pioneer Valley. In the last 65 days Franklin and Hampshire counties have seen 11 suspected opioid overdoses, putting the rate of death in western Mass higher than any other part of Massachusetts and Vermont.
Today at Greenfield Community College as they hosted a conference to address the massive heroin and opioid issue in the area.
Heroin. It’s a drug that’s been making headlines for weeks. Perhaps most notably in the overdose death of award-winning actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman. And now it’s a major problem here in western Mass.
“The heroin in Massachusetts has gotten stronger and cheaper and it’s at epidemic proportions so many people that get started with pills, maybe because they had a back injury or a neck injury or a knee operation have now started to use heroin as a substitute for their pain pill addiction,” said David Sullivan, Northwestern District Attorney.
Abuse of prescription pills have become such a problem here in western mass that doctors who prescribe them are recommending people keep them in lock boxes that are bolted to the ground.
Some like Sheriff Christopher Donelan believe the medical community need to reevaluate how it helps patients manage pain.
“The biggest crisis here is when somebody goes to the doctor or the hospital with a legitimate injury and comes out of that experience addicted to opioids. I think that if we can work with the medical community to better manage pain and be more careful about how we distribute and use opioids everybody benefits,” explained Sheriff Donelan.
The face of an addict is changing too. Once thought of as a hard drug that was taken intravenously, now heroin can be snorted too. A point that John Merrigan, Register of Probate and Family Court of Franklin County made.
“Now we’re seeing a lot of younger people that are involved, high school aged people that are involved and most of the cases we’re seeing are in their early 20’s,” Merrigan told us.
While police have been successful in taking dealers and drugs off the streets, today’s conference at Greenfield Community College was not all about cracking down on addicts.
“We have to be very aggressive and vigilant when it comes to the drug dealers but at the same time the message we have for people who are addicted is that this is a disease and you shouldn’t be tagged with a criminal record because you have a disease,” Sheriff Donelan said.
Sheriff Donelan says there may be an impact on the drug prevalence in western Massachusetts following the arrest of notorious drug lord Joaquin Guzman Loera. Loera’s cartel reportedly is the source of 25% of all the drugs in the United States.