Pubdate: Sun, 05 Mar 2006
Source: Boston Globe (MA)
Copyright: 2006 Globe Newspaper Company
Author: Emily Sweeney
Bookmark: (Heroin)
Bookmark: (Oxycontin/Oxycodone)
Bookmark: (Treatment)
Bookmark: (Youth)


Forum To Address Impact Of Heroin, OxyContin Abuse

 From Nancy Reagan's simple "Just Say No" campaign to the billions 
spent each year trying to stop traffickers and producers, Americans 
have long waged war against illegal drugs, most with the conviction 
that it is a fight both winnable  and worth winning.

But here's a chilling fact: In three counties south of Boston -- 
Bristol, Norfolk, and Plymouth -- the number of fatal overdoses from 
heroin, OxyContin, and other narcotics has continued to soar since 
1990. The state Department of Public Health recorded 13 overdose 
deaths among residents of those counties in  1990. In 2003, the most 
recent year for which the agency has data, that total  had jumped 
more than 12 times, to 158.

The picture is much the same elsewhere in Massachusetts. Statewide, 
the number of opiate-related fatalities leaped sixfold from 1990 to 
2003. And the problem has worsened at a time when funds have been cut 
for government-subsidized drug treatment programs across the state. 
These issues will be addressed Tuesday night at a special public 
forum in Easton, where parents, school personnel, and community 
members will hear about the escalating abuse of these highly 
addictive drugs in area cities and towns. "A lot of people are so 
unaware of what's going on," said Jody Price, a Brockton teacher 
helping to organize the event.

Price knows firsthand about the dangers of illegal drugs: Her 
20-year-old nephew, Nicholas Pratt, died from a heroin overdose five 
months ago after battling an addiction for two years, she said.

Price said that her sister and nephew had "looked high and low" for a 
free rehabilitation program the weekend before he died.

"He never got a bed, and was dead on Monday night-early Tuesday 
morning," she said. "There needs to be more places for these kids." 
Tuesday's forum, "A Poison in Our Midst: Heroin, OxyContin, and Our 
Children," will be hosted by the Unity Church of North Easton. 
Panelists will include Easton Police Chief Thomas F. Kominsky; Harry 
Somers, a psychologist who specializes in substance abuse; and Joanne 
Peterson of Raynham, who founded Learn To Cope (, 
a local support group of more than 100 parents of children battling 
drug addiction.

The discussion will focus on two drugs, heroin and oxycodone. The 
state Department of Public Health classifies them as opioids because 
they are either derived from or have a chemical structure similar to 
opium. OxyContin is the brand name of a prescription drug that 
contains oxycodone. On the street, these powerful painkillers are 
called oxies, or OCs. According to  recent federal statistics, more 
than 11 million people in the United States have  used OxyContin for 
nonmedical purposes. The Partnership for a Drug-Free America 
estimates that one in 10 teenagers has tried the drug, and its 
chairman, Roy  Bostock, warns that "Generation Rx has arrived." A 
related, and troubling, nationwide trend is that OxyContin is not 
only highly addictive, it is also quite expensive -- the pill's 
street value can reach $65 to $80 -- and addicts often turn to 
heroin, which is far cheaper. A  bag or hit of heroin costs as little 
as $4, less than a pack of cigarettes. State data show that the 
number of fatal opioid-related overdoses in Massachusetts increased 
from 87 in 1990 to 549 in 2003. In the early 1990s,  there were only 
a handful of fatal opioid-related overdoses reported in 
suburbs  south of Boston. Ten years later, those numbers have 
exploded. In 2003, Bristol County reported 80 fatal opioid-related 
overdoses, and the county's per-capita fatality figure is highest in 
the state. That same year, Plymouth County reported 42 fatal 
overdoses, and Norfolk County recorded 36. Heroin continues to be the 
state's biggest drug problem: Of all the adults seeking 
substance-abuse treatment in fiscal 2004, nearly half, or 42.7 
percent, were heroin users. In 2001, heroin users outnumbered every 
other type of drug  treatment admission in the state, including 
alcohol, according to the US Department of Justice National Drug 
Intelligence Center. But budget cuts gradually have reduced the 
number of free detox beds in this state. In 1991, there were nearly 
1,000 publicly funded detox beds in Massachusetts. Today, there are 
approximately 480. Most of the cutbacks occurred  in fiscal years 
2002 and 2003, said Michael Botticelli, assistant commissioner for 
the Department of Public Health's substance abuse services, as a 
result of state funding cuts to Medicaid.

At the same time, treatment admissions dropped steadily from fiscal 
2002 through fiscal 2004. The number of heroin users who checked into 
substance abuse services in Brockton, for example, dropped from 1,023 
in fiscal 2002 to 865 in  fiscal 2004. The number of users who sought 
treatment in Quincy dropped from  1,493 in fiscal 2002 to 593 in fiscal 2004.

Botticelli, though, said "a lot has happened since then, a lot of 
positive improvements."

He said additional funding in 2004 and 2005 has allowed the 
Department of Public Health to bring back some detox beds, give 
drug-prevention grants to communities, and bolster other treatment 
services. The state launched an OxyContin and prescription drug abuse 
prevention campaign last month. Since the radio ads started airing, 
calls to the state's help hot line have tripled, he said. Price hopes 
her nephew's story in Easton Tuesday night will help raise awareness 
about the dangers of heroin and the need for resources to treat drug 

Pratt was a healthy, friendly, and loving youngster who grew up on 
the west side of Brockton and ran on the track team at West Junior 
High. He later attended high school at Champion Charter School, where 
Price once taught. She said he loved animals and working on cars.

Pratt had tried marijuana. But, Price said, no one expected he would 
be tempted by heroin.

She said that when her nephew became sidelined with fatigue and 
recurring bronchial and sinus infections, his family became 
concerned. After many visits to the doctor, the family finally 
cornered him to ask what was happening. They were stunned when he 
confessed he had been snorting heroin, Price said. "We just could not 
believe it. Heroin? We didn't even know it was around." Price said 
that for the next two years her nephew tried to shake the addiction 
and his parents spent thousands of dollars on rehab programs for 
their son, who did not have health insurance.

"He hated being addicted. He was always looking for advice," she 
said. "Nick was very open about the whole thing because he hated it 
so much. I think he thought if he talked enough about it, he'd find a 
way to beat it." Things were looking up for Pratt last summer. He had 
managed to stay drug-free for 3 1/2 months, Price said, and "we 
really had hope." But, in early September, heroin "just got hold of 
him again . . . and he spiraled downward really quickly."

Price said her sister and family could not find any free rehab bed 
the weekend before Pratt's death. They called various detox centers, 
including the local High Point Treatment Center. "My sister and 
brother-in-law were desperate for any help," she said. "Nothing."

That scenario is not uncommon, said Carol Luce, admissions director 
at the High Point facility in Plymouth. She said the state gives each 
detox center a set "allowance" that pays for free care, but that 
funding runs out quickly. "It's not the availability of beds that's 
the problem; it's the availability of free-care funds," she said.

Luce, who has been working at the detox center since 1987, estimates 
that 80 percent of High Point's clients are addicted to opiates. 
"We're seeing a lot more OxyContin," she said. "It's caused a huge 
problem." The night before Pratt died, his parents decided, as a last 
resort, to commit him to Bridgewater State Hospital, hoping he could 
spend 30 days there and withdraw from heroin under professional 
supervision, then get referred to a halfway program. But when they 
checked on him that night, he was dead. For Price, sharing that story 
Tuesday night will be a way to honor her nephew's life. She hopes it 
will prevent another death. "A Poison in Our Midst: Heroin, 
OxyContin, and Our  Children" will be held at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at 
the Unity Church of North Easton  at 9 Main St. in Easton. For more 
information, call the Rev. Eric Cherry at  508-238-6373 or e-mail 
Jody Price at  ---
MAP posted-by: Beth Wehrman