Thursday, February 13, 2014

Lowell Sun 02-24-2014

Community approach needed to tackle drugs

By Hiroko Sato,
LOWELL -- Thirty-four days into the new year, Middlesex County has already seen 11 drug-related deaths.
Lowell Health Director Frank Singleton believes only so much of the blame goes to drug cartels in South America as the root cause of the problem. In many cases these days, the trouble starts with medicine cabinets at home, Singleton said.

In fact, prescription drugs are so widely available that teenagers would mix them into a bowlful of candy for others to dig into at parties just for the fun of it, said Maria Ruggiero, health educator for the Lowell Health Department. Once hooked on those prescription drugs, they would often switch to less expensive drugs, such as heroin.

However they become addicted to drugs, though, abusers need help. And no agencies could tackle the issue alone, said those who serve on the Lowell Opiate Task Force.

Lawmakers and representatives from area law-enforcement, health, educational and human-services agencies discussed how to best deal with drug problems Monday as they came together for a meeting of the Lowell Opiate Task Force.

Lowell Police Superintendent William Taylor, state Reps. David Nangle and Tom Golden, both Lowell Democrat, and Rep. William Brownsberger, a Belmont Democrat, were among those in attendance.

Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, a Leominster Democrat and chairwoman of the Special Senate Committee on Drug Abuse and Treatment Options, also spoke about involuntary drug treatment for abusers under state law Chapter 123, Section 35.

Singleton said every drug-addiction case statistically affects about 250 other people, including the victims of drug-related crimes.

The number of opioid-related deaths in Lowell has fluctuated from 17 in 2008 to 27 in 2009, 19 in 2010, and 34 in 2011. For 2012, 21 deaths have been confirmed as being opioid-related, but there are also 16 other pending deaths that may turn out to be drug-related. Seventy-four percent of opioid-related deaths in the city, since 2003, were males.

In Middlesex County, which includes Townsend, Ashby and Shirley, there were an estimated 80 drug-related deaths in Middlesex County in 2013, including 33 that were attributed to heroin, up from 65 drug-related deaths in 2012, including 20 attributed to heroin, according to Ryan's office.

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