As the New England region sees a rise in opiate abuse, the towns of Pepperell and Townsend are getting caught up in the trend.
Since the beginning of the year, there have been three opiate overdoses reported in Townsend, none fatal.
Townsend Police Chief Erving Marshall called the rise in opiate abuse in the region disturbing, and said he sees it as part of a greater regional trend.
"Not only is it an issue for the crime level, but it's a social problem that we need to do everything we can to address," Marshall said.
In order to address the issue of overdoses, Marshall puchased intranasal Naloxone, more commonly known as Narcan, for his officers.
Narcan acts immediately to reverse the effects of opiates during an overdose, and the intranasal version is simple to administer, Marshall said.
"We are still in the process of working on policy and training for the use of nasal Narcan by the officers and should hopefully have the policies implemented and the training finished in the not too distant future," Marshall said.
The supply of heroin and prescription drugs often comes from Fitchburg, Marshall said.
"I don't think we have a significant issue with drug dealing, but certainly with drug possession," Marshall said.
And those drugs tend to bring other problems with them, including related crime such as break-ins and theft by those addicted to heroin, he said.
Pepperell Police Chief David Scott said that although Pepperell in general has a relatively low level of crime and drug abuse, heroin and prescription pills are the town's biggest problem.
Because heroin has become so inexpensive and prescription pills so easy to obtain, Scott said both drugs are used by young people in the region.
Scott too said that drug addiction often leads to other types of crime.
"If someone has a habit they can't keep up with through a legal source of income, they generally tend to start finding illegal sources of income by breaking into cars and houses. Unfortunately, sometimes they steal from their own families first," Scott said.
In Pepperell so far this year, there has been one nonfatal overdose on heroin. The Pepperell Police Department has made four seizures of drugs this year -- two for prescription drugs and two for marijuana.
The marijuana cases resulted in civil citations since the quanities were less than one ounce. In the prescription drug cases, one person was charged but not arrested in the first case. The second is still under investigation.
Dr. Traci Kasparian is the clinic director for Habit OPCO, a methadone clinic in Fitchburg. She said that while she has seen an uptick in the number of patients coming from Pepperell recently, Pepperell is really no different from any other town in the area.
"People from the region are seeking treatment and that is a good thing. Drug abuse and addiction show no particular prejudice towards locale. If people from the northern Worcester and Middlesex counties are seeking treatment, then that is a positive step toward change," Kasparian said.
She said the issue of opiate abuse is critical statewide.
"Massachusetts is consistently above average for the number of heroin-related overdoses and deaths, and the demand for all types of treatment services is at its greatest. The good news is that people are seeking treatment," Kasparian said in a statement.
But some community members are so concerned about the drug problem that they have taken it upon themselves to act.
Pepperell resident Therese LaRose founded a prescription drug awareness group last fall called NM Cares, following a proposal she made to the Board of Health on the need for education and support on the topic.
"What I wanted to do is to bring awareness in town to parents regarding this. It's not just our community, it's all communities, and I want to make sure there's an awareness because these drugs can so easily be abused and could very well turn into heroin," LaRose said.
NM Cares is kicking off its awareness campaign with an informational table at Pepperell Family Pharmacy on April 26.
"I think it's still in the back of a lot of people's heads that their kids would never abuse prescription drugs, but the possibility of addiction is so easy," LaRose said.
Groton Police Chief Donald Palma did not respond to calls for comment on drug use in Groton.
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