Taunton: a community look at the heroin epidemic

By: Rebecca Turco

Email: rturco@abc6.com

TAUNTON – Heroin abuse has quickly become an epidemic across southern New England in just the past few years.

Taunton ranks 11th in Massachusetts for the most opioid-related overdose deaths. First responders there have handled more than 365 heroin overdoses from 2014 to September 2015. 22 were deadly.

“It was the type of call that we had always gone to but the frequency has just blown up,” explained Tim Bradshaw, chief of the Taunton Fire Department.

An ABC6 News crew followed first responders as they went to overdose calls. At one point, they responded to three heroin overdoses in the span of an hour.

“I realize a lot of people don’t have the soft heart for it, but if you have somebody in your family that is addicted to heroin like a son or a daughter, you want them revived,” said Lt. Frank Galligan.

In the past two years, Taunton Firefighters have been trained to administer a powerful opioid antidote known as Narcan. It works almost instantly, providing the victim isn’t too far gone.

“It’s a common occurrence to see somebody not breathing and then minutes later, be up,” explained Galligan.

Repeat offenders, though, are common. “Some of the fatal deaths in town have been people that were revived with Narcan before, successfully, and then they ended up OD’ing,” said Bradshaw.

There has been a 60 percent increase in deaths in just two years.

Although it’s tough to pinpoint, officials believe part of the reason for this spike is how available this cheap drug is. Then, you couple that with the people who make the switch after becoming addicted to powerful prescription opioids.

“I don’t know who’s going to see the end game if we don’t see it,” lamented Galligan. “I see it getting worse.”

“We’re not going to arrest our way out of this situation,” said Chief of Police Edward Walsh. “We need to emphasize prevention as well as treatment.”

On Monday, leaders from across New England met to brainstorm on how to do just that. Massachusetts’ governor is looking to tighten regulations around prescription painkillers to make it so people being prescribed an opioid for the first time would only get a three-day supply, so a doctor can verify they are safe to use the drug.

Meanwhile, Bristol County officials requested a while back to be classified as a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area. This would provide them with federal money to aid in trafficking investigations and drug prevention.

© WLNE-TV 2015