How one Massachusetts city cut opioid overdoses

Written by Ben Allen, General Assignment Reporter | Aug 18, 2014 4:00 AM

Photo by AP Photo/Elise Amendola

An educational pamphlet and samples of naloxone, a drug used to counter the effects of opiate overdose, are displayed at a news conference at the fire station in Taunton, Mass., Monday, Feb. 24, 2014.

(Taunton, MA) -- Public hearings, outreach efforts, and legislation have focused on reducing heroin overdoses in the midstate. But overdoses in one Massachusetts city have plummeted, and it may provide a model for how to handle to the problem.

The city of Tauton, home to about 55,000 people, had 52 opioid overdoses during a three week period in March.

But since the end of June, the city about 50 miles south of Boston hasn't recorded a single opioid overdose.

Mayor Thomas Hoye says the when Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick declared a public health emergency in late March, that got everyone's attention.

"It's not necessarily any new strategies, but you have a lot of agencies now working together and overlapping each other and using their resources better so I think that's been a huge plus in this situation," says Hoye.

The critical drug Narcan is now in all ambulances and on fire trucks as well. Narcan is designed to reverse an opioid overdose. Taunton has also formed an opioid task force, on top of the one at the state level. An 800 number will also soon be available for anyone in Massachusetts.

"Part of it is that dealers are a little bit more nervous now about getting caught. They're not putting that product out there right now, that watered-down heroin with fentanyl," says Hoye.

Hoye says the declaration of a public health emergency was a gamble, but it raised the stakes because it put everyone on notice.

Adds Hoye: "This can happen to any city, town or family at any time. Nobody sets out to be a drug addict."

More people have already died in York County from heroin overdoses this year compared to all of 2013, and Lancaster County ranks in the top 10 statewide for heroin deaths since 2009.

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