Worcester Takes Steps To Stop Spike In Fatal Drug Overdoses

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In the wake of at least nine fatal drug overdoses in Worcester in less than a week, the city is taking the problem into its own hands by trying to get those struggling with addiction the help they need.

The city issued a public health advisory on Wednesday and have been distributing leaflets warning people, particularly those affected by addiction, about the alarming rate of overdoses. In the past week, there have been more than 30 overdoses in the city — about a third of them fatal, said Worcester Public Health Director Derek Brindisi. Although tests are still being done, Brindisi said officials believe the heroin is mixed with something else.

A tube of Naloxone Hydrochloride, also known as Narcan, is held up in 2012. Narcan is a drug used to counter the effects of opiate overdose. (Charles Krupa/AP)
A tube of Naloxone Hydrochloride, also known as Narcan, is held up in 2012. Narcan is a drug used to counter the effects of opiate overdose. (Charles Krupa/AP)

"We're using the term bad heroin or contaminated heroin. There's no such thing as good heroin," Brindisi said. "But the heroin that's being used right now we do believe is being cut with some type of impurity, poison that is linking these deaths."

Last week three people were found dead in one Worcester apartment, authorities believe resulting from the same batch of heroin. Price is a major contributor to the problem, said Worcester officials, where a bag of heroin on average costs about $8.

"This is something we've never seen before where literally you have a situation where somebody can put a needle in their arm and in seconds be dead," City Manager Ed Augustus said. "So we want to get the word out about how people can protect themselves."

The city is trying to get the word out through outreach workers, having them warn active drug users about the increased danger.

"We would start off with asking if you heard about what was going on," said Daniel Aponte, an outreach educator at AIDS Project Worcester. "We would find out what you like to inject, we would find out if you know your dealer, definitely awareness of where you're picking up and making sure you know the knowledge of the stuff that you are using."

Aponte and his colleagues give users the anti-overdose drug Narcan, bleach kits to clean syringes and other items to try to keep them safe. They also distribute the public health advisory flier, warn them not to use alone and not to mix drugs. But for Aponte, the overdose problem is a personal one.

"Actually a couple of family members did pass away this past weekend so it did hit home," Aponte said. "I guess it kind of just fuels the fire to keep doing what I've been doing for the past five years."

Next week Worcester officials are scheduled to meet with medical officials and treatment providers to discuss further steps to try to address the problem.

This segment aired on August 8, 2014.

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Deborah Becker Host/Reporter
Deborah Becker is a senior correspondent and host at WBUR. Her reporting focuses on mental health, criminal justice and education.



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