LOWELL -- For years when the opioid epidemic began, overdoses occurred in public bathrooms, parks, cars, and other public areas, but in the past few months that has changed dramatically, according to Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan.

In the past year, 72 percent of fatal overdose victims used drugs at home, and died at home, according to Ryan's figures, which were released recently to the Lowell Opioid Task Force.

"From 2012 until about 6 months ago, there really was no profile of an overdose -- they were everywhere," Ryan said. "But for the last six months or so its been almost exclusively at home, often in a bedroom."

Using at home can have benefits, such as the presence of family members who could potentially help in the event of an overdose. And officials have encouraged family members of those with addiction to get Narcan for themselves in case they need it.

But some individuals are using while home alone, and that can be a recipe for death.

"By closing yourself away, you can often cut off that opportunity to get help in a critical moment," Ryan said.

Bill Garr, CEO of Lowell House, said he thinks the stigma of addiction leads some users to seek that dangerous privacy.

He said one recent overdose victim was at home with his parents, but waited until his parents left the home before he entered the bathroom and used.

"He OD'ed in the bathroom. They found him there dead," Garr said. "That's not a terribly uncommon story.


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Both Garr and Ryan encouraged people to seek addiction treatment, but for those who are still using, they urge never using alone.

"We tell people don't use alone. If you're going to use, use with someone else," Garr said. "It saves lives."

The increase in overdoses occurring among those using alone comes despite an 11.5 percent decline in overdose deaths in Middlesex County in 2017 compared to 2016. The decline was even higher in Lowell in 2017.

"In Lowell that was a 21 percent decline, and Lowell, for us, was really the epicenter of everything that was going on," Ryan said.

Ryan said overdose figures this year have held somewhat steady compared to 2017, though a good start to the year was hurt by a deadly March. She referenced a recent warning issued by first responders in Lowell after four people died of overdoses in just 12 hours.

"It's very fluid," Ryan said. "But we are hopeful that decline we saw in 17 will continue."

Follow Robert Mills on Twitter @Robert_Mills