Somerville, MA, April 8, 2014 – Somerville’s first responders and agencies are taking steps to try to prevent the sometimes-fatal drug overdoses that result from the use and abuse of heroin and painkillers.
Because, although Somerville police continue to make successful arrests almost every week, overdoses appear to be on the rise. Police have tallied 21 over the past 15 months, seven of them fatal, according to Deputy Chief Michael Cabral. Many city residents can tick off another half-dozen or more: overdoses of Somerville natives that have took place in nearby cities and towns. Massachusetts has one of the highest overdose rates in the nation.
But with help from the city’s Board of Health, the Cambridge Health Alliance and Cataldo Ambulance Service, members of the Somerville Fire Police departments are being trained to use an overdose antidote made from nalaxone, sometimes called “Narcan.”
“This is a wonderful drug that really helps people, gets them back quickly, and prevents death,” Chief Kevin Kelleher told Somerville Neighborhood News.
Cataldo’s Jon Olszewski, who trained many of the firefighters, said Narcan gives people “a second chance.” Cataldo and other ambulances have been using the antidote – which can be spritzed into the nose or injected under the skin – for about a decade.
During his training, Olszewski stressed that, while heroin use doubled between 2007 and 2012, the over-perscription and abuse of painkillers like codeine, oxycodone and other opioids are “much worse.”
“A lot of the drugs are getting out more than they should,” he said, and “being perscribed in bigger quantities, to more people.”
On top of the abuse of painkillers, the price of heroin is low, and unemployment among people under 29 remains high: 12.5 percent for 20 to 24-year-olds according to a June 2013 study.
Everyone in the fire department knows people who have overdosed, according to Lt. Michael Marino, who helped set up the Narcan trainings.
“Unfortunately I think everybody in this job could reach their arm out and at least have not even one degree of separation,” the Somerville native explained. “We’ve had five members on the job who’ve lost a family member or a friend to this. So, I think it resonates deeply within this department.”
Marino said he knows three people he grew up with who succumbed to an overdose.
Chief Kelleher said he is proud that the city’s first responders will be able to save more lives, but added that Narcan is not the solution.
“Narcan is an intervention, it’s not a cure,” Kelleher said. “Our hope is to get people quickly back, get the respiration back, and get them to a medical facility for proper care.”