More than 50 people overdosed on opioids in Haverhill last month. So far this year, drug abuse has claimed five lives here.
City Councilor Colin F. LePage led a discussion at Tuesday night’s meeting, updating the status of the opioid crisis locally and statewide.
In 2016, the last year for which full tallies are available, first responders answered 302 overdose calls in Haverhill, and 37 deaths were attributed to drug overdoses. More than 2,000 people died as a result of drug overdoses across Massachusetts.
The numbers have remained relatively steady for the past three years, LePage said, contradicting anecdotal statements that the crisis is lessening.
In addition to increasing funding for education, outreach and treatment, there are ways to fight the opioid crisis that don’t cost money, but will call for an expenditure of courage, as LePage displayed during the meeting.
“My son Christopher died of an opioid overdose two years ago. It’s not something I’m happy about … but if I can say that, maybe I can help someone else,” LePage said.
Removing the stigma from substance abuse and addiction is one way to combat the crisis, he said.
“I don’t have shame to it; I don’t have pride to it. It’s just a fact,” LePage said.
Another is to recognize the part that abuse of prescription pain medications (pictured) can play in the road to addiction to drugs like heroin and fentanyl, LePage said.
The city councilor works with outreach organizations and speaks to Haverhill eighth-graders about his personal experience losing his son.
Lori Curry, a middle school health teacher and adviser to the Haverhill Schools VIP (Violence Intervention and Prevention) Team, said LePage’s presentations have an effect on students because Christopher’s story puts a face on the opioid crisis.
Curry said she taught Christopher LePage at Hunking Middle School. His life and death hit home with her students today because they can see themselves in him.
The focus on prevention is a positive move, said Curry, who advocates reaching students as early as possible.
“I’m on the hopeful side of things. It’s also nice to hear that prevention is at the forefront and has become more of a push in Haverhill,” Curry said.
Several members of Haverhill’s legislative delegation attended Tuesday’s council meeting, to hear about Haverhill’s methods for combating opioid abuse, and to let the council know what they are trying to do at the state level.
State Sen. Kathleen O’Connor Ives noted that drug addiction and overdose deaths are straining the state’s Department of Children and Families by requiring more foster and adoptive homes. O’Connor Ives said she has asked that the resources for recruiting foster and adoptive homes be doubled.
O’Connor Ives reminded councilors that legislators can be a resource for constituents who are in need of substance abuse treatment.
“Please utilize our offices, if you have someone who needs treatment and you’ve hit a brick wall trying to find services,” she said. Legislative offices are open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, she said.
Haverhill Rep. Andy X. Vargas said he has been in touch with the Department of Public Health to discuss the possibility of procuring Narcan, a medication that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose and save lives, at cost even lower than what is offered through the state’s bulk purchasing program.
Vargas praised Curry’s attempts to begin abuse prevention education in early grades.
He said he has taped a disturbing set of facts to his desk to remind him of the need to catch kids when they’re young: 90 percent of individuals suffering from substance abuse started before age 18, and 50 percent started before age 15.