Pubdate: Sat, 25 Jun 2011 Source: Patriot Ledger, The (Quincy, MA) Copyright: 2011 GateHouse Media, Inc. Contact: http://www.patriotledger.com/ Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/1619 Author: Jack Encarnacao, The Patriot Ledger DEATH CERTIFICATES TELL STORY OF COMPLEX SOUTH SHORE OVERDOSE EPIDEMIC DEATH CERTIFICATES SAY HEROIN, OXYCODONE AND OTHER DRUGS KILLED 46 MEN AND 53 WOMEN IN QUINCY, WEYMOUTH AND BRAINTREE IN TWO YEARS QUINCY - They're about about evenly split between men and women. More than 80 percent are over 30; the median age is 41. About a quarter of the men work trade union jobs or in construction. The women are likely to be homemakers, secretaries or workers in the medical field. They are the 99 people who died of drug overdoses in the past two years in Quincy, Braintree and Weymouth, largely from opiates like heroin and oxycodone, the pricey prescription painkiller most cited as the gateway drug to heroin. A Patriot Ledger review of five years of Quincy death certificates and three years' worth in Braintree and Weymouth support a view long put forth by those involved in drug treatment, public health, medicine and law enforcement: The local epidemic of addiction to heroin and other opiates does not discriminate on the basis of age, sex or lot in life. The data jibes with the perspective of Alejandro Rivera, who directs Impact Quincy, a program of the nonprofit Bay State Community Services organization. "When we started with the program, very often people were saying it's only a problem for people with somehow a lower socioeconomic level or people without housing," Rivera said. "Then when you see all of this, it's just not accurate. You cannot say: 'This is the profile of somebody (with an opiate addiction).' No, absolutely not." Bay State's focus gradually shifted from its original target - underage drinking - to drugs. Three years ago, it trained its resources on opiates after statistics released by the state Department of Public Health showed high levels of opiate abuse admissions into emergency rooms and treatment programs in Quincy and other South Shore communities. Three years in, local public health and drug treatment officials have a more full-bodied understanding of the opiate problem's complexity, as well as more formal action plans and data-gathering. Quincy police, the first department in the state to carry overdose-reversing Narcan spray in their cruisers, began keeping comprehensive statistics this year on the overdose calls to which they respond. For the past two years, Quincy has hosted an opiate conference that brought together officials, counselors and experts to discuss the problem. Learn to Cope, a support group for relatives of addicts, will open a Quincy chapter this fall. It's not an easy problem to isolate, as evidenced by local death certificates. They paint a complex, largely inconsistent picture of a person who dies of an overdose. A 45-year-old man who worked for the Department of Homeland Security died from overdosing on hydrocodone, a pain reliever. A funeral director in his 30s died at South Shore Hospital, succumbing to a cocktail of opiates and a psychoactive drug. A 23-year-old student died in an apartment from overdosing on methadone, a drug administered to heroin users to help them function. Among male overdose victims, one recurring occupation field is construction and the trade unions. Forty percent of men who died in Quincy of a drug overdose from 2006 to 2011 worked as a tradesman, laborer or in a construction job, The Patriot Ledger's review found. Jay Hurley, president of the New England Ironworkers' Council and the former business manager of South Boston-based Local 7, which covers Quincy, said young people looking to enter the union's apprentice program are often felled by drug problems. "Six out of every 10 kids who sign up for our apprentice program never make it out the other end; a preponderance of them are just basically because of drug and alcohol abuse," he said. "Some of the most talented kids imaginable have got the demon, and there's nothing we can do about it." Starting in September, Local 7 will implement mandatory, random drug and alcohol testing for all members after the union voted to add the program last year. Failures will result in 30-day suspensions from work on the first offense, 90 days on the second, and a year for a third. "Our guys are tired of working on jobs where guys are messed up," Hurley said. Local 7 has an alliance with Modern Assistance Programs of Quincy, which provides inpatient and outpatient treatment and assesses ironworkers who are suspected of having a drug problem. The carpenters union has an assistance program that connects members with drug problems with a liaison who can steer them to counseling. While publicized police activity involving heroin and other opiates tends to involve young people, local statistics indicate that overdose deaths start happening with greater consistency when users pass their 30th birthday. In 2009 and 2010, the median age among people who died from a drug overdose in Weymouth, Braintree or Quincy was 41. The median age is the one that appears in the middle when the age of each victim is listed from youngest to oldest. The average age of those overdose victims is 39. Andrew Scheele, Quincy's public health commissioner, said people who die of heroin overdoses skew older because many are coming back to heroin after a stint in a sober house or in jail. Scheele gave this hypothetical example, with a tone of familiarity: A heroin addict goes to jail after having worked up a tolerance to two bags of heroin a day. "Now, out of jail after 18 months, he thinks he needs that two, when all he needed was a $5 bag. Now his body's not used to that huge influx of heroin, and it puts him right over the edge." By "over the edge," Scheele means dead. - --- MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr.