Ryan Cahill and Zach Pessin
Editor in Chief and Special Correspondent
Massachusetts is currently facing a heroin crisis. A problem that began in the cities has leaked to the suburbs, affecting adults and youth alike. This is a problem far more severe than underage drinking, smoking marijuana, or the new “vaping” trend — heroin is quickly taking lives and devastating communities, as grieving families know all too well.
Holliston itself, often seen as a safe bubble from the outside world, has found out the hard way that heroin is an extremely dangerous and common threat. Recent overdoses have brought the issue to the forefront of the town’s attention, and preventative measures have begun to take place. One of the most effective of these measures is simply educating people on the dangers of heroin.
“Say you fill a glass halfway up with lemonade,” said Holliston Patrolman Dan Griffith. “Then you fill the other half with water. The water acts as a cutting agent that makes the lemonade less strong.” This cutting agent, used by drug cartels in Central and South America to maximize their profits, is the element that causes overdose and death when used in heroin.
Different cartels use different amounts of the cutting agent; if an addict starts using heroin from a different cartel, it may be stronger than the previous product, which can lead directly to overdose.
According to Griffith, most people who are overdosing now are “inexperienced kids” in their late teens to mid-twenties who didn’t understand the effect of the cutting agent. From Griffith’s perspective, most got involved with heroin by first using prescription medication stolen from family members, such as oxycodone. Then, after running out, they were likely drawn to heroin due to its inexpensiveness and accessibility.
Holliston High School junior Madison Porter offered a different view. “My best friend did heroin for a while while he was in a bad place, and it changed him,” said Porter. “Heroin makes people irritable and twitchy — always on edge. People do it to escape from real life and their problems.”
Identifying exactly how and why people begin using heroin is vital to preventing more overdoses. However, while overdoses are the most important, they are certainly not the only negative effect of heroin.
Lieutenant Tim Riley, Executive Officer at the air-wing of the Massachusetts state police, has noticed a rise in small thefts, including car break-ins, house robberies, and shoplifting.
Both Riley and Griffith said that the people responsible are usually heroin addicts who sell what they steal in order to fuel their addiction. Jewelry has become a popular target, since addicts are able to re-sell it to local jewelry stores for as much as $500, which is more than enough to buy large quantities of heroin.
Griffith feels the rise in the use of heroin in Holliston is obvious, given there have been about seven recent overdoses in Holliston. According to the Boston Globe, there were 863 heroin overdoses in 2013, the last time the data was collected; this information did not include Boston, Springfield, and Worcester in the tally — Massachusetts’ three largest cities.
This raises an essential question: how accessible is heroin to young people in Massachusetts?
When asked how easy it would be to purchase heroin, Porter said, “It would take me a little while, but I could get it.”
Another HHS junior, Ben Durkee, said it would be “hard, but nowhere close to impossible.”
The degree of difficulty varies from person to person, but one common theme prevails: almost any young person can access heroin if they’re motivated enough. With such accessibility, it is not surprising that the state has seen such dramatic spikes in overdoses and general usage.
However, on the town level, measures are being taken to fight heroin usage. In January, the Holliston Police Department worked with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in a perscription pill take-back event, meant to prevent future pill abuse which could lead to heroin use. According to Griffith, about 70 pounds of prescription medication was collected.
Holliston police cruisers have also started carrying Narcan, a drug which can reverse the effects of a heroin overdose and potentially save lives, and monitoring the items being sold to jewelry stores.
While the police department works tirelessly to stop the growing heroin trend, the high school is also preparing to tackle the issue. So far, the Holliston school system has mostly educated students about the harms of heroin through general wellness classes. However, the high school has prepared a guest speaker for the upcoming spring semester, hoping to convey a warning message to the entire student body.
Porter doubts the effectiveness of these methods, having said that “not much is being done to prevent heroin usage that I can tell, besides support from friends and school assemblies that don’t exactly do anything.”
Whether or not she is correct remains to be seen, but regardless of the outcome, the school’s efforts are still important and reflective of how serious the heroin crisis has become.
Progress can only be made when the entire community, and eventually the entire state, unites to face the growing heroin issue as a top priority. With dedication of time and resources, heroin can be fought effectively at the town and state levels, which will, in the end, save lives.