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Why Did Worcester Miss the Warning Signs on the Heroin Epidemic?

Friday, August 08, 2014


Worcester has seen a rash of suspected heroin overdose related deaths in the past week, prompting the city to take a closer look at the epidemic that has been growing in throughout the state.

While cities like Taunton – who saw a spike of 52 heroin overdoses in a three-week period in March 2014 – have shown effective ways to help fight and treat heroin overdoses, Worcester has taken a much more reactive approach, not acknowledging that other communities have been faced with heroin epidemic issues in the past.

“We don’t know of any local communities that have seen this type of spike,” said Worcester Police Chief Gary Gemme at a press conference. “We know from our community and our experiences that heroin is very frequently mixed with all sorts of substances including horse tranquilizers, rat poison, and drugs that treat epilepsy. The message that we have to get out is there's something going on with the heroin. Stay away from the heroin; it's as simple as that.”

Worcester has seen a total of nine – potentially ten – suspected heroin overdose deaths from August 1st to August 6th. City officials – including the city manager, mayor, police chief, and city director of public health – announced at a press briefing that they were tackling the heroin epidemic on two fronts: an investigative front and a public health front.

Late to Narcan Usage

Many first responders throughout the state have taken to Narcan – a treatment that helps to reverse narcotics overdoses – as an effective tool to help prevent some overdoses from turning into deaths.

Police in Massachusetts have been carrying Narcan as early as 2010, when the Quincy Police Department began to carry the treatment option as standard equipment. From the time that Quincy Police began carrying Narcan to October 5, 2013, the treatment reversed 188 drug overdoses in the city.

It may be an effective option in treating overdoses, but as of right now, the Worcester Police are not carrying Narcan. Chief Gemme said in a press conference that the timetable for Narcan to be in Worcester police cruisers is about two more weeks, as the city is finalizing their order.

Gemme also said that the initiative has been in place for the past six months, stating that it took that long to train all of the officers. In contrast, a spokesperson for the Massachusetts State Police said it took three days to train a total of 95 officers to be able to carry and administer Narcan.


“Last week, as part of our overall response to the increase in suspected overdoses, we completed training in Narcan for 95 troopers,” said David Procopio, the Director of Media Relations for the Massachusetts State Police.” Each of them is being provided with two doses. This marks the first time troopers are being equipped with the drug.”

A Reactive Approach

Worcester is certainly devoting a lot of resources to combat heroin overdoses in the wake of recent deaths, but other cities as well as the state have been putting procedures in place since March 27, 2014, when Governor Deval Patrick declared a statewide public health emergency in response to the opioid epidemic.

The state released a wealth of information as well as a report and a comprehensive strategy for how various cities could deal with the heroin addiction and overdose epidemic after the State Police reported 185 heroin deaths in the state from a period of November 1, 2013 to February 25, 2014.

According to Maryanne Frangules, Founder and Director of the Massachusetts Organization for Addiction Recovery (MOAR), Worcester is a city that has a wealth of tools in place to help aid in the battle against opioid and other drug addictions. With that being said, there is certainly some learning that Worcester has to do from this epidemic moving forward.

“I think that Worcester has had some issues that they have had to deal with,” said Frangules. “I think that they had a learning experience that has allowed for them to see what they needed to do.”


Related Slideshow: New England States with Highest Marijuana Arrest Rates

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6. Massachusetts

National Rank for Arrests per Capita: 51

2010 Arrests Per Capita: 18

National Rank for Raw Arrests: 49

2010 Raw Arrests: 1,191

Photo: Flickr/Blind Nomad

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5. Vermont

National Rank for Arrests per Capita: 48

2010 Arrests Per Capita: 119

National Rank for Raw Arrests: 51

2010 Raw Arrests: 737

Photo: Flickr/Victor

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4. New Hampshire

National Rank for Arrests per Capita: 33

2010 Arrests Per Capita: 210

National Rank for Raw Arrests: 41

2010 Raw Arrests: 2,769

Photo: Flickr/Blind Nomad

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3. Rhode Island

National Rank for Arrests per Capita: 31

2010 Arrests Per Capita: 214

National Rank for Raw Arrests: 43

2010 Raw Arrests: 2,243

Prev Next

2. Maine

National Rank for Arrests per Capita: 30

2010 Arrests Per Capita: 214

National Rank for Raw Arrests: 40

2010 Raw Arrests: 2,842

Prev Next

1. Connecticut

National Rank for Arrests per Capita: 23

2010 Arrests Per Capita: 247

National Rank for Raw Arrests: 25

2010 Raw Arrests: 8,815

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Number One Overall

Washington D.C.

National Rank for Arrests per Capita: 1

2010 Arrests Per Capita: 846

National Rank for Raw Arrests: 34

2010 Raw Arrests: 5,115

Photo: Flickr/Torben Hansen


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