Dramatic rise in opioid-related deaths in Berkshire County, DA blames tainted drugs


PITTSFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – A tainted opioid drug supply is killing people at an alarming rate in Berkshire County. The district attorney says reactionary policing and a prosecutorial response aren’t working – instead, immediate action is warranted, but she needs lawmakers on Beacon Hill to agree.

Overdose deaths hit a new high in Massachusetts, up 5-percent statewide, but in Berkshire County they’re up 44-percent. The newest data is from 2020 during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Berkshire District Attorney Andrea Harrington blames the pandemic in part, but also a more potent form of the already dangerous synthetic drug fentanyl.

“We have partnered with a public health organization that is doing a study of the drug supply,” Andrea Harrington said. “So the information that I’m receiving from them is that this p-fluorofentanyl has been in Berkshire County, more so than other parts of the state.”

The word p-fluorofentanyl sounds familiar because it’s been in the news recently. Actor Michael K. Williams died of an accidental drug overdose. The New York City medical examiner blamed p-fluorofentanyl in part as the cause of the 54-year-old’s death.

Stephen Murray is a Berkshire County paramedic. He’s also a recovering addict. He told the 22News I-Team that people using drugs don’t know what they’re getting.

“When we think back to when I was using a decade ago most of what I was using were prescription pain pills,” Stephen Murray said. “So what I would get in a pill, I know what the concentration was, I knew what the dose was, I know that there were no additives to it.”

In 2020, there were 56 opioid-related deaths in Berkshire County. That’s up from 39 in 2019. In 2010, there were four deaths. Both Murray and the DA, along with many people in the medical community, are advocating for the legalization of supervised injection sites – where people can use drugs safely, under the supervision of trained medical professionals.

DA Harrington feels like western Massachusetts isn’t getting enough attention from lawmakers in Boston.

“You know a lot of these programs are geared more toward urban areas and I want people to know that we’re struggling here and we need this public health approach as much as anybody else in the state,” Harrington said.

DA Harrington, Murray, and other advocates hope lawmakers on Beacon Hill pass proposed legislation in favor of supervised consumption sites. So far, there isn’t a timetable for a vote.

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