LYNN — Six people overdosed on heroin within a 48-hour period in Lynn last week, resulting in three deaths and prompting city officials to issue dire new warnings about what they say is a growing epidemic.
“We’ve been looking at this issue since 2009, trying to reduce overdose deaths,” Maryann O’Connor, the city’s health director, said Monday. “It’s frustrating.”
The number of overdoses in so short a period of time left this North Shore city of about 90,000 people stunned. O’Connor said police are looking into whether the deadly doses included fentanyl, a chemical additive that is used to boost the potency of heroin.
Lynn police did not return requests seeking comment.
“When you have six overdoses in [two] days and three of those are fatal, you just have to wonder,” said Wendy Kent, director of behavioral health and prevention programs at Project COPE, a substance abuse services agency.
The number of fatal overdoses jumped from seven in 2010 to 35 in 2014 in Lynn, while overall overdoses in Lynn climbed from 64 in 2010 to 281 last year.
“In the past two years we began to see a surge, and it just keeps getting worse every year,” said Kent.
The six recent overdoses occurred between Thursday and Saturday mornings.
Lynn officials have been closely studying the trends in an effort to save lives.
The city receives a $100,000 grant annually to look for solutions and to enhance drug education and prevention. Part of the funding goes toward supplying Narcan, a drug that can counter an opioid overdose, to police officers, treatment centers, and relatives of drug users.
Last year, Narcan was used to counter overdoses in 62 percent of cases.
Lynn, Salem, and Peabody officials are meeting regularly to come up with prevention strategies.
But officials say more resources are needed to expand the city’s treatment network and to ensure that services can be immediately available to those who are in need.
“It took us four days to get a girl into a detox bed,” said Mary Wheeler, program director of Healthy Streets, an HIV/AIDS and overdose prevention program. “It would be nice if we could have more treatment beds than people selling drugs.”
Lynn residents say they would welcome any solution to what has been a longstanding problem.
“Twenty-five years ago [drug addicts] lived on this corner,” said 58-year-old Merritt Tenney, 58, who lives around the corner from Newhall Street, where police responded to an overdose on Thursday. “I had to kick them out of here. It’s been happening for 30 years out here. It’s never going to change.”
The issue for some Lynn residents has become commonplace.
“Everywhere you go you see needles everywhere,” Dominic Croce said. “You see crack pipes everywhere. I think it’s pretty sad the city is known for heroin and everybody comes here to get it.”
But officials warn that the mounting heroin crisis is not unique to Lynn.
More than 7,900 people died in Massachusetts of opioid overdoses between 2000 and 2013, according to data from the state’s Department of Public Health. There were 978 deaths in 2013 alone.
“There’s a lot of work that needs to be done beyond Lynn,” O’Connor said. “We have a serious issue, but it’s not a Lynn issue, it’s a state issue, it’s a national issue. We need more treatment.”