Massachusetts is under siege from a frightening surge of heroin overdoses, Governor Deval Patrick said last month in declaring a state of emergency. That grim view has become unquestioned consensus among law enforcement, health workers, and devastated families.
But even as officials from Beacon Hill to town halls rush to respond to the crisis, its full scope remains unknown. No real-time data are collected by state health officials to show how many overdoses are occurring, how many deaths are resulting, and where the toll is greatest.
As a result, police and health officials in large cities and small communities are scrambling on their own to map and react to the crisis rather than wait for data from the state Department of Public Health, which only last week released its count of opiate-related deaths for 2012, reporting 668 such fatalities, an 11 percent increase from the previous year.
“The lag time is a disgrace. It’s a combination of indifference and ineptness on DPH’s part,” said David Sullivan, the Northwestern district attorney, whose office serves Hampshire and Franklin counties.
By contrast, he said, federal officials keep up-to-date records on disease outbreaks. “If I call the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, they can tell me how many people died of the flu last week.”
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