State Reports 72 March Heroin Deaths; Questions Surround City Petition

As Haverhill debates whether medical marijuana is a “gateway” to harder drug use, Massachusetts State Police report 72 “suspected” heroin/opiate related deaths in March alone and 217 fatalities since the start of the year.

The report, released by Colonel Timothy P. Alben, also reported the average age of the victims was almost 36 years. Of the March deaths reported, 18 were women and 54 were men. The numbers do not include Boston, Springfield or Worcester, where local police track data.

Meanwhile, questions surfaced this week about why a Haverhill group’s related petition was not before city councilors Tuesday. Petitioners argue marijuana provides a pathway to stronger drug use, such as heroin.

Speaking on WHAV’s “Open Mike” program this week, Megan Shea said she learned from attending meetings of the Haverhill Overdose Prevention and Education (HOPE) task force that former drug addicts say marijuana is a key component in a trail to other substances.

Shea is one of several people collecting signatures opposing Healthy Pharms plans to open a marijuana store in Haverhill. Another petitioner, John L. Maddox, Haverhill Public Schools’ pediatrician, said the dispensary plan and his being in charge of the welfare of more than 8,000 students “keeps me up at night,” as surveys of teens in treatment found “a black market” where more than 50 percent of teens have accessed diverted medical marijuana. He also points out marijuana use by Haverhill youths under 13 is above the state average.

“The state average of kids under the age of 13 smoking marijuana regularly is 7 percent. And in Haverhill it’s 11 percent, almost double. I really wish the state, the DPH, would have been smart enough to say once the voters approved medical marijuana, to say ‘let’s not put the first wave of dispensaries in any town that has a youth rate above the average.’ They didn’t do that, and so here we are,” Maddox said.

Healthy Pharms disputes assertions marijuana is a gateway drug.

Michitson: Mayor Plays Role in Dropping City Council Agenda Item

Although petitioners delivered more than 200 signatures to City Hall before the deadline for last Tuesday’s City Council agenda, the item was mysteriously dropped from consideration. Council President John A. Michitson told WHAV this week the decision to drop the matter was related to a similar topic to be raised by Mayor James J. Fiorentini.

“The mayor decided not to move forward with agenda item. Dr. Maddox wanted to put a related item on agenda so that he could speak regarding the mayor’s item. The mayor pulled it, so Dr. Maddox pulled his item. It’s that simple.” When asked how the two items are related, Michitson said, “The petition itself is not tied to mayor’s agenda item.”

Fiorentini was a key figure in the state’s decision to fine drug lobbyist James P. Jajuga $2,500 for late disclosure of his drug lobbying in Haverhill. Last year, Haverhill City Councilor Robert H. Scatamacchia said a letter of support he signed was provided by Jajuga and retyped it on to Haverhill City Council letterhead by the mayor. It was unclear how the mayor obtained city council stationery.