LePage on Opiate Crisis in Haverhill: ‘It’s Not Getting Any Better Out There’

City Council President John Michitson, left, praised Councilor Colin F. LePage, right, for organizing and leading a discussion Tuesday night on the effects of the opioid crisis on Haverhill.

When the numbers for 2016 are tallied, more than 100 people will have died in Haverhill as a result of drug overdose deaths in the last four years, according to experts in the field.

It was the saddest number in a litany of statistics in a discussion at Tuesday night’s City Council meeting that painted the picture of the ongoing opioid epidemic in Haverhill.

“It’s not getting any better out there,” said City Councilor Colin F. LePage, who knows the truth of that statement better than many.

LePage’s son Christopher lost his battle with addiction in the summer of 2015.

Through tears, LePage spoke of the need to keep talking about the dangers of addiction.

“Folks are getting a little numb and don’t realize the cost to people, to our families and our resources,” he said.

Since his 30-year-old son’s death, LePage has devoted his public life to making a difference for addicts and their families.

He speaks regularly about his family’s experience at local middle schools.

At his invitation, representatives from the fields of public safety, health, politics, religion and community activism appeared before the City Council to talk about the state of the opioid epidemic in Haverhill and potential strategies to address it.

The statistics clearly pinpoint the arrival of the dangerous and deadly synthetic opiate fentanyl on Haverhill’s streets.

In 2013, there were eight overdose deaths in Haverhill. The next year, that number jumped to 34, LePage pointed out.

Trinity Ambulance EMT Kirk Brigham, who’s been on the job for 16 years, said he can track the arrival of fentanyl to the Merrimack Valley back to May 2014.

The cheap synthetic heroin manufactured in China has ravaged the region ever since, with no signs of slowing down.

This January, a Trinity ambulance responded to an overdose a day in Haverhill and an average of nearly three a day in Lowell, Brigham said.

The numbers have steadily increased over the last few years, with 192 overdoses in 2013; 275 in 2014; 296 in 2015 and 302 in 2016. Roughly two-thirds of those were Priority 1, Brigham said, meaning the subjects faced imminent death without lifesaving measures.

For many of the victims, that meant a dose of Narcan.

At the beginning of his career, Brigham said he gave overdose victims a dose one-fifth the strength of what he administers today, reflecting the power of fentanyl compared with the drugs available on Valley streets just a few years ago.

Essex County Sheriff Kevin Coppinger agreed Narcan can be a miracle drug for overdose victims. Unfortunately, he said, it can also provide a crutch for addicts who trust the medication to bring them back from the brink of death only to seek another deadly high.

The former Lynn police chief said a combination of prevention efforts and treatment have the best chance of putting a dent in the local epidemic.

He praised former Sheriff Frank Cousins for creating two 42-bed treatment centers at the county jail in Middleton. He estimated the 28-day detox programs, one for men and one for women, have a roughly 50 percent success rate. There are restrictions on who is admitted, with probation officers and judges working together to give the individuals “a taste of corrections” without putting them into the criminal justice system, he said. Even though the programs are located in the jail, they are managed by health care professionals, not public safety officials.

State Rep. Diana DiZoglio, a member of the House Committee on Mental Health and Substance Abuse who represents neighborhoods in Haverhill, North Andover, Lawrence and Methuen, said state lawmakers have dedicated additional funding to prevention, education and treatment services, yet the number of overdoses and deaths have continued to rise.

The 2016 House budget crafted by Haverhill Rep. Brian S. Dempsey as Ways and Means chairman included funding for the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to create a drug-abuse prevention curriculum for all Massachusetts middle and high schools, DiZoglio said, but the money was cut by Gov. Charlie Baker.

Phil Lahey of Methuen, who leads the Merrimack Valley Prevention and Substance Abuse Project, urged councilors to circulate and sign a petition urging the governor and state Department of Public Health to uphold the No Wrong Door policy, which would change admissions practices for addicts seeking treatment in detox programs.

Lahey explains it this way: Detox programs only accept addicts if they are high on opiates at the time of admission. Most treatment programs will only accept people from detox programs. So, if an addict can’t get into a detox because he’s not high, there’s little to no chance he will be able to receive treatment.

“This policy (No Wrong Door) will require that someone who wants help will get help. They call it an epidemic, treat it like an epidemic,” Lahey said.

DiZoglio said No Wrong Door is “common sense” and deserves to be discussed.


6 thoughts on “LePage on Opiate Crisis in Haverhill: ‘It’s Not Getting Any Better Out There’

  1. Yes and yes. We must address the supply chain and must treat it like a war because it is a war. Keeping our heads in the sand about the rampant gang -drug connection is nuts. The President last night wants to treat it as such yet some in the room decided to play politics and act like little kids who didn’t get their way. People, it is time we wake up and rid our land of this scourge as if it were the plague and time to stop playing politics with peoples’ lives.

  2. It’s time to connect the dots between public policy and a liberal democrat agenda issue….

    treatment centers….prevention curriculums.,,,,admissions practices….detox programs…..

    Notice anything missing? Why is it that NONE of the supposed leaders EVER discuss or address the “supply chain” on how drugs reach the streets of our communities? Last year the TV show 20/20 did a program on the out of control drug problem in Manchester, NH. In it they stated that virtually all of the drugs that were being used in Manchester made their way there from Lawrence. The drugs made their way to the streets of Lawrence from criminal trespassers in this country illegally who walked right into this country via wide open southern borders. Yet, elected officials NEVER address this. They’re more concerned about ignoring the cause of the drug problem for the sake of promoting one of their main public policy positions. If there was a leak in the roof of your home would your solution be to buy more buckets? Well, that’s what we have happening here.

    Did you notice the commonality about the people commenting in this article who are ignoring the criminal illegals bringing the drugs into the country? They’re all democrats. They’re completely ignoring the root cause of the drug problem for the sake of promoting open border public policy and anyone having the ability to walk right into this country. They manipulate the language of the issue using terms like “undocumented workers” and “Dreamers” as if this somehow makes them the party of compassion. We now have a Sherriff…an ex-police chief… who dealt with this on the front lines and who is now falling right in line and ignoring the supply issue now that he’s a politician. And don’t you just love State Rep. Diana DiZoglio…her solution is more funding to continue doing what they’re doing and buy more buckets, even as the problem continues to get bigger and bigger. How’s the definition of insane go…..Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

    With overdoes and deaths literally every day what we’re seeing play out is end result of public policy decisions made by elected Democrat officials more concerned about protecting a liberal agenda issue than solving this problem that is causing. There is a direct cause and affect relationship occurring and officials are completely ignore it. Is it a surprise that Lawrence, being and official sanctuary city, is ground zero in the area for the supply line of drugs? With the open door welcome mat laid out by mayor Failurentini Haverhill is now right behind Lawrence. Haverhill also has city councilor Andy Vargas who has taken the public policy position of working to defend the criminal trespassers in Haverhill who are bringing the drugs to the city that are killing young people his own age.

    If we are truly at war against the drug problem we’re losing, and will continue to lose, under the supposed leadership of democrats. All generals in battle know the way to defeat the enemy is to cut off their supply lines. But that’s not what democrats are doing ….democrats are literally working to help keep the supply lines of the enemy wide open….just ask Andy Vargas.

    Democrats aiding and abetting criminals in this country illegally via their official public policy position of open borders which is wiping out a generation of young people. It’s not going to get better…it’s going to get worse. The only way things will change is if they are voted out of office.

    • I agree with a lot of what you say, but I have to point out that Lawrence does not have a large Mexican population. It has far more Dominican immigrants and Puerto Rican citizens. The punk drug dealers there may have a cartel connection, I am just saying that most of Lawrence is legal, not illegal. Even with a secure border the war on drugs will not end, or even come close. What will happen is fentanyl will be made here instead. We need to crack down hard on the dealers themselves. But so sad because unfortunately humans will always find a way to get high and make stronger drugs. If we seriously can stop the influx of the drugs from Mexico and make it painful to be a drug dealer in the courts here in the US, I still feel the human race that we are will make something else to get high on and then will be a new scourge that we cannot blame on any other country…The supply wouldn’t be there if there was no demand for it. There will always be demand and so we will learn to make it ourselves.

      My oldest son died last year from it. He had no drug issues until he broke his Jaw and got liquid Percocet prescribed to him and then 2 more viles of 40 count perks. After that he was hooked on pills and it turned into Heroin because he didn’t have anymore prescription and heroin is way cheaper and he could still support his habit and his family. Even if we stop drugs coming from Mexico we will have an even harder time changing the pharmaceutical laws and will always have addicts walking around needing/looking for something. We need to deal with the pain. Not mask it with a high. I think yes, stop illegals bringing it over the border but also need to stop the addiction where it starts the most – that is at the doctors office.

  3. “The cheap synthetic heroin manufactured in China has ravaged the region ever since, with no signs of slowing down.” –

    The worst part is, the new synthetics being IMPORTED are even more powerful and naloxone will not work. As Ron Paul stated last night, the “War on Drugs” is one ginormous failure. There is no political will to change course, so failure and more death it is. “Treatment” is just addressing the symptoms, not the cause (certainly not the supply side), especially now where the drugs are so powerful one can die after their first try.

    As for prescription dispensing and addiction, no one wants to go there either. One look at both Massachusetts State Legislators and Massachusetts CONgress Members campaign donations from “Big Pharma”, with legislation for the profit and protection thereof. Profit > People #HYPOCRITES