WOBURN — Amid an alarming rise in fatal drug overdoses, including seven in the past week alone, law enforcement officials in Middlesex County made a direct appeal to family and friends of those battling addiction Friday, urging them to intervene and seek help on their loved ones’ behalf.
“We want to be saving lives this weekend,” said Marian Ryan, district attorney in Middlesex County, the state’s most populated. “As I have said many times, this is a public health crisis. This is a community crisis. We need the community to step forward and help us.”
In a sign of the depth and persistence of the state’s opioid problem, Ryan called on residents to keep a close eye on those who are at risk of overdosing, and provided information about treatment groups that accept emergency referrals.
There have been 65 drug-related deaths this year in Middlesex County, more than half coming in the past month, demonstrating that the crisis in Massachusetts has not subsided. The recent victims in Middlesex had a longstanding history of abuse and previous overdoses, many of them in close proximity, Ryan said. Most died from heroin.
The seven fatal overdoses in the past week all occurred inside homes, Ryan said. Two were in the presence of children.
Last month, Ryan announced a new intervention program for children who witness a parent or loved one suffer an overdose, seeking to help them cope with their trauma and break the cycle of substance abuse.
The reason for the sudden rise in overdoses is not clear, Ryan said.
“There is clearly something afoot that is causing this,” she said. “Whether it is people giving in to their addiction, whether it is product on the street, we don’t know. We are working to find out, but what we need to do now is keep people safe.”
In Massachusetts and across the country, the opioid crisis has cut across demographic lines and shown little sign of abating. In 2014, there were almost 1,100 deaths from opioids in Massachusetts, and 791 during the first nine months of 2015, according to the most recent figures from the state’s public health department.
A recently released study by the Health Policy Commission found that opioid-related hospital visits in the state almost doubled from 2007 to 2014, from 31,000 to nearly 57,000.
In response, state lawmakers last month passed legislation that places a seven-day limit on opioid prescriptions by doctors, and increases evaluation and screening for substance abuse issues by schools and hospitals, among other measures.
In Middlesex County, the number of fatal drug overdoses has climbed drastically, from 65 in 2012 to 185 last year.
There has also been a sharp increase in the number of nonfatal overdoses, officials said.
Weekends tend to be the most dangerous time, officials said.
“We are suggesting and urging the public for help this weekend,” Ryan said, flanked by police chiefs from more than a dozen communities.
As the opioid epidemic has grown, emergency responders are increasingly administering Narcan, a drug that can help reverse overdoses.
Lowell House, a drug treatment provider in that city, will be open Saturday to teach people how to administer the drug and provide them with doses.
“This is about trying to save lives,” said Lowell Police Superintendent William Taylor. “People need to get into treatment. . . . Please do not hesitate to call 911 to get the assistance rolling.”
There have been 21 fatal overdoses from heroin or opioids this year in Lowell, including three in the last week, Taylor said.
“I think it’s the public health and public safety issue of our time,” Taylor said.
In the past 32 days, emergency medical responders from six private ambulance companies in Middlesex County have administered Narcan 244 times, and have reversed an average of 7.6 overdoses per day, Ryan said.
Wicked Sober, an Arlington-based nonprofit that offers prevention programs, will have extra staff on duty to refer people to emergency counseling, founder Mike Duggan said.
“We will be available the entire weekend,” said Duggan, 30, a recovering addict who founded Wicked Sober more than two years ago. “Anyone who is struggling, or looking for help, should give us a call.”
The number is 855-953-7627. The organization’s website, wickedsober.com, will be monitored around the clock, Duggan said.