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Overdose kills kin of UMass president

The nephew of University of Massachusetts president Martin Meehan died from a drug overdose last Saturday, another reminder of the scope and deadly toll of the state’s drug-abuse epidemic.

Paul Meehan Jr., 30, died “after many years of fighting his battle with addiction,” according to his obituary. The Tyngsborough resident left three children.

“Paul was working as hard as anyone ever has to beat a relentless and brutal opponent, and the battle simply wore him down,” the obituary stated. “Now he is at peace with our merciful God in heaven, a peace he never found here on earth. We pray that the hearts and minds of this world open to see that people like Paul are of value, loved deeply, and are worth fighting this epidemic for.”

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Through a spokesman, Martin Meehan declined to comment, saying it was a private family matter.

Deaths from opioid overdoses have risen dramatically in recent years. Last year, more than 1,200 people in Massachusetts are estimated to have died from overdoses of heroin and painkillers, an 88 percent increase from 2012, according to the state public health department. More than 300 people are estimated to have died from opioid overdoses in the first three months of this year, a similar pace.

Over the weekend, there were nine drug overdoses in Lowell alone, one of them fatal, police said. Two people also died of heroin overdoses in nearby Dracut, according to the Lowell Sun.

In Lowell, the number of fatal overdoses rose from eight in 2012 to 29 last year, according to state figures.

“It’s a brutal disease that knows no class lines,” said Bill Garr, chief executive of Lowell House, a treatment and recovery program. “We need to treat this like the epidemic it is.”

Garr said the scope of the crisis requires far more investment in prevention and treatment services.

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“We are throwing pebbles in the water when we should be throwing boulders,” he said. “What happened this weekend is probably going to happen more often.”

Garr said young people have little difficulty acquiring drugs, and that dealers have made heroin far more powerful by adding the painkiller fentanyl.

In June, Governor Charlie Baker pledged to intensify efforts to tackle the crisis, from expanding access to treatment facilities to raising awareness about the dangers of prescription painkillers.

As the epidemic has grown, more emergency personnel are carrying naloxone, an overdose reversal drug known as Narcan.

Nationally, the rate of heroin-related overdose deaths nearly quadrupled from 2002 to 2013, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2013, more than 8,200 people died.

In the past decade, heroin use more than doubled among those between the ages of 18 and 25. Almost half of heroin users were also addicted to prescription opioid painkillers, according to the CDC.

Meehan’s funeral will be held Friday at St. Michael’s Church in Lowell, according to his obituary.

Instead of flowers, donations can be made to Zack’s Team Foundation, a Billerica group that raises money to send people to treatment.

The group is named for Zachary Gys, who died in 2013 from an accidental morphine overdose. He was 21.

Substance abuse “becomes a lifelong battle and it is almost impossible to win the battle alone,” the group wrote on its website.

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Peter Schworm can be reached at schworm@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globepete.