Ongoing efforts to address the widespread abuse of opiate narcotics south of Boston are yielding measurable results in Quincy, where recent statistics show a striking reduction in the number of residents dying from overdoses, officials say.
“We’re seeing progress with the fatal overdoses. We’re seeing progress with people gaining awareness that prescription drugs can lead to heroin” and overdose, said Lieutenant Detective Patrick Glynn, head of the Quincy Police Department’s anti-drug unit.
The Quincy Police Department was the first in Massachusetts to join a state pilot program that distributes naloxone and trains responders to use the nasal spray to revive an overdose victim. More than two years have passed since the program kicked off in the fall of 2010, and it has emerged as a nationwide model, earning Glynn a leadership award from the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.
Since October 2010, Quincy police have used Narcan, a brand of naloxone, to revive non-breathing overdose victims in 134 instances. Narcan failed to take effect twice; in both cases, the person died. Once, it failed but breathing eventually returned and the person lived. In the other cases, police reversed effects of the overdose, restoring breathing, effectively saving 131 lives.
In more than two years in Quincy, a total of 19 people have died from an overdose. In contrast, 46 people died from an overdose in the city in the 18 months before the program began, according to the Quincy Police Department, which did not begin tracking opiate-related overdoses until May 2009.
The number of fatal overdoses in the whole of Norfolk County also appears to be on the decline. This year, according to preliminary figures from the district attorney’s office, is better than last: In 2011, 53 residents died from opiates. As of Dec. 14, the death toll for 2012 is 43.
“Narcan doesn’t stop the drug epidemic — all it does is save a life — but that’s important,” said Norfolk District Attorney Michael Morrissey, praising the Quincy Police Department and Impact Quincy, a program of Bay State Community Services, which distributes free nasal Narcan and trains people to use it.
“We are in a war. We battle every day, as do the police and the schools and many of our community partners,” he said.
Glynn said police are fighting the opiate epidemic on multiple levels, including heightened drug enforcement, raising public awareness, and promoting treatment.
Law enforcement is a key facet, said Glynn, who pointed to a recent seizure of illegal opiates in Quincy. On Dec. 11, police raided a home on Earnest Avenue and confiscated more than 1,200 oxycodone pills, worth more than $40,000 on the street. They also seized nearly $18,000 in cash and charged four men — Mansfield resident Ely Thevenot, 27; Haverhill resident Harrich Garcis, 22; Lawrence resident Raul Fontana, 21; and Manchester resident Jose Rosario, 22 — with drug trafficking and related offenses.
“This is still an epidemic. There is no doubt about it,” said Glynn.
He said prescription painkillers and heroin are the most abused drugs in Quincy. “We can’t arrest our way out of it, and that’s why we hope people will get treatment,” he said.
Ken Tarabelli, president and chief executive officer at Bay State Community Services Inc., said positive gains have been made in the struggle.
“Things have been trending in a good direction,” he said. “The way the public is referring to the problem has improved. People are starting to see it as everybody’s problem and not just an us-and-them issue.”
He said Impact Quincy, which was funded in 2009 by a grant from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health geared toward addressing opiate overdoses, has been educating the public with presentations to drug users, families, health and law enforcement professionals, and community members. It also runs a support group for parents affected by heroin and prescription drug abuse in collaboration with Learn2Cope, which has several chapters in the Boston area.
Meanwhile, Quincy police have helped their public image since officers began carrying Narcan, said Tarabelli. “The police are being seen in a much more positive light because of Narcan. They are being seen as helpful instead of hurtful to addicts,” he said.
Tarabelli said that, after nearly 40 years in the field of social services, he is relieved to see the stigma of addiction on the decline. “People are letting go of this idea that addicts bring substance abuse on themselves. It is just not true. I don’t know of one family, including my own, that does not have substance abuse within it,” he said.
Quincy police officers remember the families, said Glynn. He described a night when a parent with an overdosing and nearly lifeless daughter arrived at the station. Word had spread that police can help. Officers administered Narcan; the young woman lived, he said.
Across Norfolk County, people are fighting to break the destructive hold opiate addiction has developed in their families and towns, said Morrissey, whose county includes 28 communities primarily to the south and west of Boston.
“I wish I could tell you that we are winning, but I can’t tell you that,” he said. “I can tell you that we are fighting to win.”
Meg Murphy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.