NORTHAMPTON, Mass. (WWLP) - The 21st century's opioid crisis is the deadliest drug epidemic in American history, claiming more 64,000 lives in 2016. Five people die from an overdose every day in Massachusetts.
Addictions often start with prescriptions to treat severe pain.
"The short amount of time a patient is on opioids, the better for pain control," Dr. R.F Conway of Cooley Dickinson Hospital told 22News. "However, the longer the patient takes opioids the more potential for addiction."
Addictions linked to overprescribing painkillers like oxycodone. Addicted patients, unable to get prescriptions, turn to cheap street heroin and often more than just heroin.
"You just don't know what's in there and some of the things and the potency that we are seeing is much higher," Chief Jody Casper of the Northampton Police Department told 22News. "We're seeing fentanyl cut into heroin as well, so we're definitely dealing with a different type of drug that's out there."
That powerful drug is the opioid fentanyl, which is 50-times more powerful than heroin, and the reason for many deadly overdoses. This has forced police departments, like Northampton's, to equip every cruiser with the overdose reversal drug, Naloxone.
"And then they carry their own personal dose in case there's any exposure that they have," said Casper.
Three officers had to be treated for fentanyl exposure.
Of the nearly 1900 opioid-related deaths in Massachusetts in 2016, nearly 69 percent tested positive for fentanyl.
So far this year, Northampton has experienced 14 overdoses. At least five in just one weekend.
The Northampton Police Department in 2016 created the Drug Addiction Response Team, known as, DART. It's a group of police officers and when they encounter addicts, instead of locking them up, they provide them with vital resources to help them kick the habit.
The department partners with community resources like Tapestry Health and Hampshire Hope to provide additional resources to help addicts.
Drug court helps repeat offenders receive intensive, supervised probation and mandatory treatment.