Opioid Epidemic Takes Toll in Worcester

By Michael Yazhari

Last year, Worcester State University student Emmett J. Scannell lost his life to heroin addiction. The Telegram & Gazette described it this way: “Scannell’s death followed the usual grim drug dance: addiction, detox, relapse, lies, treatment, relapse.”

Addiction affects everybody, rich or poor, and has no target demographic. You probably know someone suffering from addiction – you, a friend, a family member or even a fellow student you went to school with. There has been a rise of heroin overdoses in Worcester in 2016, according to mass.gov. Prescription painkillers, heroin, and the drug fentanyl (an incredibly potent opioid) contribute to a large percentage of these overdoses.

Often addiction starts with doctor prescribed drugs and progresses into the use of heroin. That’s what happened to a 27-year old addict in Worcester who asked to remain anonymous. She said she had started taking prescription pills in 2008, just a few times a month, and she did not progress to heroin for another four years. From that point on it escalated quickly. She said she never pictured herself touching heroin, but it’s “a cheaper longer high.” She is not sober and continues to struggle with her addiction. She referred to heroin as her “husband” and said “it’s all you care about, it’s number one, nobody else matters.” This is the sad reality that addicts face on a daily basis.

Another local addict who also asked to remain anonymous referred to her addiction as a “black hole, [that] became a fixation, and obsession, that took everything from me.” She wasn’t able to get clean until she went to jail.

The number of overdoses has skyrocketed in recent years, severely impacting our local community. In 2010, Worcester County lost 80 people to opioid overdoses; by the year 2015, the number reached 218. In 2014, Worcester emergency personnel received 712 calls due to overdoses, according to masslive.com.

In Massachusetts, the total number of opioid related deaths in 2015 was a shocking 1,379. In 2014, Massachusetts had 19.5 opioid overdoses per 100,000 people, and by 2015 it increased to 25.8 overdoses, according to mass.gov. Narcan (Naloxone), a drug used to treat overdose, is now carried by all emergency personnel.

Substance abuse disorder is a problem many people across the country are facing. Addiction is a disease and it is not only a hardship for the people suffering, but for their friends and families as well. Massachusetts now has a higher percentage of opioid overdoses than the national average of the United States, according to a CBS News article.

“More than 50,000 Americans died from drug overdoses last year — the most ever,” according to the article. “That is slightly higher than the number of gun homicides, according to government data.”

Despite the scary numbers, there are steps that can be taken to help. Area police are vigilantly working to keep heroin off the streets, and Worcester has a number of drug treatment centers such as Adcare Hospital where addicts can use suboxone and other medications to help them get clean. These are other treatment centers spread across the state, as well as twelve step programs like Narcotics Anonymous. If a friend, a family member, or even yourself are struggling with addiction, reach out for help.

News within the local community has helped shine a light on the dark path of addiction. We can all help by making the community aware of the hazards of prescription drugs and illegal narcotics. Spread awareness and help people in your local community.

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