ipswich aware candlelight

High Toll of Drug Fatalities Keeps Communities Looking for a Solution

IPSWICH — With a sharp increase in North Shore opioid deaths, a group in Ipswich wants addicts and their families to know there is help.

Drug fatality figures for 14 smaller local North Shore communities have declined slightly from 2015 to 2016 — although they are still high historically (see graphs below).

But opioid deaths in the surrounding cities of Beverly, Lynn, Salem, Lawrence, and Haverhill jumped by 32 percent in the same period.

During 2016, there were a total of 173 opioid deaths in the 19 communities surveyed. That was up 24 percent from 140 in 2015.

In Ipswich, a group working as part of a larger regional initiative held a candlelight vigil last night on Town Hill.

Ipswich Aware — which consists of churches, police, medical professionals, social workers, and volunteers — is part of the regional Substance Abuse Prevention Collaborative (SAPC), which covers Cape Ann communities, Ipswich, and Beverly.

“We’re trying to raise awareness. We know people are struggling with substance abuse,” said the town’s director of public health, Colleen Fermon.

The vigil last night (May 17) coincided with National Prevention Week.

The U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) said 21.5 million Americans above the age of 12 struggle with a substance abuse disorder.

And, it added, one in five adults struggle with mental disorder.

“National Prevention Week aims to decrease these numbers by increasing awareness and treatment for these physical and mental health and wellness issues,” Fermon said in a press release issued earlier this month.

According to a report issued last year by the state, “prescription drugs fuel the epidemic,” but, on the whole, illegal drugs are more closely related to deaths.

However, women are more likely than men to die of a prescription drug overdose, the report said.

And one population that face significant risk is recently released prisoners. They are 56 times more likely to die from an opioid overdose.

Statewide, there were 1,933 deaths in 2016. That was up by 282, or 17 percent, from 2015’s toll of 1,651 fatal overdoses.

The ages of those who suffer the most overdoses are between 18 and 34, according to state figures.

For women, 61 percent of all opioid fatalities fall within that age range. For men, it is 66 percent.

Another group at risk is for those aged 35 to 49.

ipswich aware vigil
From left: Colleen Fermon, Richard Tofuri, Nicole Coles, Chris Bevilacqua, Heidi Weller, Laksmi Sirois, Ethan Wren and Stevey Riley

In Ipswich, some efforts are already underway:

  • An “angel” program similar to Gloucester’s ground-breaking initiative
  • Police and fire crews carry Narcan to temporarily arrest the effects of overdoses
  • Police carry business cards with contact information they can discreetly leave with people if they suspect there is a drug problem in the family or home
  • A support group called Learn to Cope for people with a family member suffering from addiction.