Heroin in New England, More Abundant and Deadly

Katharine Q. Seelye
New York Times
July 19, 2013

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Theresa Dumond works as a prostitute to support her heroin habit.

PORTLAND, Me. — Heroin, which has long flourished in the nation’s big urban centers, has been making an alarming comeback in the smaller cities and towns of New England.

From quaint fishing villages on the Maine coast to the interior of the Great North Woods extending across Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, officials report a sharp rise in the availability of the crystalline powder and in overdoses and deaths attributed to it. “It’s easier to get heroin in some of these places than it is to get a UPS delivery,” said Dr. Mark Publicker, an addiction specialist here.

Here in Portland, better known for its laid-back vibe and lively waterfront, posters warn of the dangers of overdose. “Please,” they say: “Do Not Use Alone. Do a Tester Shot” and “Use the Recovery Position” (which is lying on one’s side to avoid choking on vomit).

The city, like many others across the country, is experiencing “an inordinate number of heroin overdoses,” said Vern Malloch, assistant chief of the Portland Police Department. “We’ve got overdose deaths in the bathrooms of fast-food restaurants. This is an increase like we haven’t seen in many years.”

Heroin killed 21 people in Maine last year, three times as many as in 2011, according to the state’s Office of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services. New Hampshire recorded 40 deaths from heroin overdoses last year, up from just 7 a decade ago. In Vermont, the Health Department reported that 914 people were treated for heroin abuse last year, up from 654 the year before, an increase of almost 40 percent.

“Heroin is our biggest problem right now,” said Capt. Scott Tucker of the Rutland, Vt., police.

One reason for the rise in heroin use is the restrictions on doctors in prescribing painkillers. The tightened supply of pain pills, and physical changes that made them harder to crush and snort for a quick high, have diverted many users to heroin, which is much cheaper and easier to get. Dr. Publicker, president of the Northern New England Society of Addiction Medicine, said that some doctors in the region had been overprescribing painkillers, which can be gateway drugs to heroin. A federal study in 2011 showed that the treatment admission rate for opiate addiction was higher in Maine, and New England, than elsewhere in the country, though communities everywhere are reporting
problems.

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