Pubdate: Fri, 14 Jan 2005
Source: Eagle-Tribune, The (MA)
Copyright: 2005 The Eagle-Tribune
Author: Sean Corcoran
Bookmark: (D.A.R.E.)
Bookmark: (Heroin)
Bookmark: (Oxycontin/Oxycodone)
Bookmark: (Treatment)
Bookmark: (Youth)


NORTH ANDOVER -- More than 500 people packed a gymnasium at Merrimack 
College yesterday, trying to make sense of the area's OxyContin and heroin 
epidemic. The turn-out was so overwhelming that some people had to be 
turned  away at the door. "It really shows that people realize the problem 
we have," said Essex County District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett, "and it 
really shows a community response  to the problem."

The event, the first of its kind to address the widespread abuse of 
OxyContin and heroin among young people, was organized by Blodgett and 
Sheriff Frank Cousins. Both men said they were pleased the room was filled 
with people from many backgrounds -- parents, teachers, mayors, probation 
officers and doctors --  not just police.

Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey came, promising more state money for the treatment of 
addicts. She also announced the state Department of Public Health will soon 
require hospitals to give daily reports of overdose incidents. The numbers 
should help everyone get a more accurate and timely picture of the problem. 
Yesterday's speakers included the head of a hospital emergency room, an 
attorney, a minister, a police officer and the father of a child who died 
from a heroin overdose.

No one claimed to have the answer, but after listening to speakers discuss 
the toll the drugs are taking on Essex County, participants said they were 
committed to working together.

One parent drawn to the conference was Charles Rosa, who lost two sons to 
heroin overdoses -- 20-year-old Vincent, who died October 2003, and 
23-year-old Domenic, who died last November. The West Peabody father 
carries laminated pictures of both sons inside a tattered plastic bag in 
his pocket. Rosa still has four children, he said, including twin 
8-year-old boys. When he asked them what they wanted for Christmas this 
year, one said, "I want my brothers back."

"I can't bury another kid," Rosa said. Rosa was not certain what he would 
get out of the event, but he hoped he would meet someone who would give him 
an opportunity to make a difference in the region's fight against cheap, 
potent and prevalent heroin. During the past few years, it has become clear 
to law enforcement and medical professionals young people are becoming 
hooked on opiate-based prescription drugs such as OxyContin, and then 
moving on to heroin, which at less than $10 a  bag is cheaper, more readily 
available and so pure it can be sniffed. Last year, there were nearly 5,000 
admissions to Essex County treatment facilities for heroin and other opiate 
abuse, said Dr. Stephen Valle, president of AdCare Criminal Justice 
Services. At least 8 percent were between the ages of  18 and 20.

During the panel discussion, Valle talked about the need for more money to 
treat addicts. He noted that even before the budget cuts began in 2002, 
state treatment centers were underfunded and beds were at a premium. "We 
must recognize that the base we are trying to get back to was the base that 
was inadequate five years ago," Valle said. "What we need to do is start 
treating (addiction) as a disease. No other disease in America will you get 
so many blocks and challenges to getting care as you will an addiction 
problem." Overwhelmingly, the most common theme of the day was the value of 
education. There appeared to be agreement that schools aren't doing enough 
to warn students about the dangers of drug use.

"We eliminated DARE in our schools because somebody decided it was too 
expensive or ineffective," said Patrolman Larry Wentzell, the student 
resource officer in Lynn. "But what do we replace it with? Nothing?" 
Patrick Larkin, the Peabody High principal, said the school began a program 
last summer to get athletes to talk about the drug problem. Unfortunately, 
he said, little has been done to get non-athletes involved. "We will go to 
any measure to keep kids safe," he said. "We are open to any suggestions."

While the crippling effect of opiates is both sad and overwhelming, the 
speakers said it was important to have hope. People have survived addiction 
and lived to tell how.

There may be problems with money and getting access to treatment beds, said 
Paula Perlmutter, of the Center for Adolescent Substance Abuse Research at 
Children's Hospital in Boston, "but what we do have is people -- neighbors 
and friends who have faced this problem and overcome it. "Often we 
complicate things, but it comes down to one human being helping another 
human being."
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