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South

Rise in heroin use mirrors state surge

A series of heroin overdoses — two of them fatal — and drug arrests this year in Plymouth and Carver reflect a statewide surge in heroin use, police say.

“We’re definitely seeing an increase in heroin in the area,” said Plymouth Police Chief Michael E. Botieri.

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Next door in Carver, two residents, both in their 30s, died from heroin overdoses in the span of three days in January.

“Two deaths in a week from heroin overdoses is a big number for us,” said Carver Police Chief Marc R. Duphily. “We are quite concerned about it.”

The problem reflects a growing trend. In recent weeks, State Police have reported an uptick in heroin overdoses all over the state.

The number of opioid-related deaths in Massachusetts, which include heroin as well as such prescription drugs such as oxycodone, rose from 363 in 2000 to 642 in 2011, according to the state Department of Public Health’s most recent available numbers.

The trajectory usually follows an all too common path: when oxycodone pills get too expensive, opiate addicts turn to heroin, according to Duphily. “Heroin is a similar high and a lot cheaper,” said Duphily.

That troubling trend has not escaped the attention of students of Plymouth North High School, who produced a documentary on the subject. The video includes interviews with a local drug dealer who talks about the business of using and selling oxycodone and other prescription pills, a high school counselor who lost his brother to a drug overdose, and a Plymouth District Court probation officer who talks about Plymouth’s “epidemic of opiate use and heroin abuse.”

Meanwhile, police have been trying to stem the scourge of opiate abuse through what Duphily calls “hard-hitting” law enforcement, to help take the drugs and their dealers off the streets.

On Jan. 24, Carver police concluded a lengthy investigation and executed a search warrant on an alleged drug dealer’s vehicle. That afternoon, Carver police Sergeant Joseph Ritz, Detective William Kelly, Officer Dennis Rizzuto Jr., and Officer Segisfredo Melo stopped the 1999 Volvo on Seipet Street in Carver.

With the help of the Plymouth County Sheriff’s Department and Plymouth Police Officer Tracy Manion, three people in the car were arrested and a “significant amount” of heroin was seized, police said.

The 22-year-old owner of the car and a 21-year-old woman were charged with possession of heroin with intent to distribute. A 30-year-old man was also charged with heroin possession. All three suspects live in Carver, according to police.

Carver police also teamed up with Boston Police Department in an investigation that resulted in arrests on Jan. 31.

At about 6:45 p.m., Carver police arrested three Carver residents — a 19-year-old man, a 22-year-old man, and a 17-year-old woman — in the parking lot of McDonald’s.

The trio had allegedly just returned from buying heroin in Boston, according to police, and the alleged dealer was arrested by Boston police around the same time.

In Plymouth, a man was found passed out in a car on Court Street with a hypodermic needle in his lap on Jan. 24.

A few hours later, Plymouth police found another victim of an apparent overdose at Algonquin Terrace. He was lying on a kitchen floor with a syringe plunger nearby.

The next day, Plymouth police made a drug bust at 84R South St. and recovered approximately 20 grams of heroin, according to Botieri.

A 26-year-old man and a 26-year-old woman were charged with possession of heroin and heroin trafficking. A 23-year-old woman is also facing drug-possession charges.

Then on Feb. 2, police were alerted to an unconscious male in an apartment in North Plymouth.

He was treated with Narcan, a drug commonly administered to help reverse an overdose, Botieri said.

The surge in drug activity is straining the resources of local departments. In Plymouth, which geographically is the largest community in the state and has a population of about 56,000, the Police Department has two officers assigned to narcotics, Botieri said.

“They’re pretty busy,” he said.

Carver occupies just under 40 square miles and has a population of about 11,500. Given the size and population of Carver, Duphily said, “we should have 24” officers.

Due to budget constraints, which resulted in staffing cuts, the Police Department has gone from from 18 officers in 2002 to 13 today, Duphily said.

“We’ve had to make do with what we have . . . We don’t [even] have a full-time detective,” said Duphily. “We’re still making a good dent in the problem, with the resources we have.”

In an effort to combat drug activity, Carver police recently set up a tip line. Anyone can dial 508-866-2000, extension 9, and leave a message, and they can choose to remain anonymous.

The tip line is active 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Carver police are also working on establishing a way for people to submit tips online through the police department’s website, www.carverpolice.org.

Emily Sweeney can be reached at esweeney@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @emilysweeney.

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