Drug overdose calls, deaths up in Yarmouth
Christine Legere @ChrisLegereCCT
Jan 13, 2020 at 5:53 PM
Police statistics show increases from 2018 to 2019.
WEST YARMOUTH — The town of Yarmouth saw a 9% increase in the number of drug overdose calls made to local police in 2019, from 65 calls to 71.
The number of drug-related deaths also rose. The number of suspected heroin-related deaths in Yarmouth jumped from eight in 2018 to 12 in 2019 — an increase of 50%.
The town’s statistics run opposite to the trend being seen statewide.
While statistics have yet to be tallied by the state Department of Public Health for the final quarter of last year, overdose deaths in Massachusetts in the first three quarters of 2019 showed a 6% drop when compared to the first nine months of 2018.
The state’s total for the first nine months of last year was nearly 1,500 deaths by overdose, which was 99 fewer than in that timespan in 2018.
Yarmouth Police Chief Frank Frederickson prefaced his detailed analysis of the town’s 2019 drug overdose data by pointing out 97% of the residents on the Cape and in Yarmouth do not use heroin or other opioids, according to a study done of the region in 2015. Only about 3% use such drugs.
“Based on Yarmouth’s population of 21,000, there are approximately 630 people in Yarmouth who suffer from Chronic Heroin/Opioid Use Disorder,” Frederickson said in his report. The 2015 Barnstable County report indicated about 8% of Cape residents suffer from alcoholism, the chief said.
Suspected fentanyl/heroin overdoses accounted for 63 of Yarmouth’s 71 reported overdoses in 2019. Of the remaining eight overdoses, seven were related to benzodiazepines and one to methamphetamines.
Frederickson said the increase in drug-related deaths “is primarily due to the uneven potency of fentanyl in each dose, and even from the same batch.”
And state health officials say use of the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl is at an all-time high. Its presence was being detected in almost every overdose death in the state that was screened for drugs, state health officials noted in their report on January through September 2019.
Fentanyl is being found in all overdoses in Yarmouth, said Frederickson, who called it “80 times more powerful than morphine.”
“It’s Russian roulette when you’re playing with fentanyl,” he said. “It’s unstable and it mixes unevenly.”
Heroin/fentanyl use is also an expensive habit, the chief said. The average heroin/fentanyl user on the Cape consumes at least 1 gram per day, but many use as much as 4 to 8 grams daily. The cost is about $100 per gram.
Yarmouth police officers and emergency rescue personnel administered the overdose reversal drug Narcan to revive 45 people in 2019, and civilians used it on six people.
Narcan use is making it harder for police to track trends, Frederickson said, noting that it has made data much more unreliable than it was five years ago.
“It’s really tricky,” he said. “They don’t always call us. Sometimes they use Narcan and revive themselves, and don’t even go to the hospital.”
According to police department statistics, 41 males and 30 females suffered overdoses that were reported in 2019. Of the total, 63 were white and eight were African-American.
The chief saw “one positive” in drug data for last year.
“The average age is going up,” Frederickson said.
The average age for overdose victims in Yarmouth was 36. That may indicate fewer people under 36 are starting to use drugs, he said, “but that’s an unscientific opinion.”
“I’m trying to understand why people start when they know how destructive it is,” Frederickson said. “You don’t have Drano with your dinner; this is the same thing. It leads to death, a life of struggling, frayed family, and job and legal implications.”
Although statistics show that drug overdoses and overdose deaths increased from 2018 to 2019, both years were significantly lower than all-time highs seen in Yarmouth in 2017, when there were 131 overdoses and 15 deaths.
Law enforcement is battling the local drug use problem with its anti-crime unit. Emergency overdose calls are later followed with visits from police officers accompanied by substance abuse counselors. The department also works with the Yarmouth Substance Abuse Committee to help connect addicted persons with treatment.
Yarmouth police also host weekly “Learn to Cope” meetings for families of those addicted to drugs, and work on prevention programs with the school department.
In his report, Frederickson says the level of heroin/fentanyl addiction is likely to remain high.
“In my belief, we must put greater effort into prevention measures,” Frederickson said. “The funding for rehabilitation dwarfs the amount of funding for prevention. If the funding were reversed, it is likely that the addiction rate would reduce significantly.”
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