WASHINGTON (WWLP) – According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Massachusetts is one of the top ten states with the highest drug overdose deaths involving opioids.
“It just takes one time. Fentanyl can take you out in one dose,” say Brandee Izquierdo, the Executive Director of the Stop the Addiction Fatality Effort or the SAFE Project, a non-profit that works to help reduce the nation’s addiction epidemic.
For Izquierdo, that issue hits close to home, “I’m in recovery myself.”
She says the problem the opioid crisis has only gotten worse.
“We’re finding that fentanyl, specifically the copy-cat fentanyl, is being laced in other drugs that people don’t think they are going to be laced in,” Izquierdo says. “Its really about how people are being blindsided.”
Last year, Congress passed bipartisan opioid legislation. Experts say ending the crisis will need to focus on more than just law enforcement.
“Our experience has shown that the greater the availability of drugs in a community, the greater the chance that an individual will be able to use them for the first time,” says Kemp Chester, Assistant Director of the National Opioids and Synthetics Coordination Group. “That first use leads to chronic use very quickly particularly with opioids.”
This is a problem that western Massachusetts knows all too well. Springfield, Chicopee, and Holyoke all experienced an increase in opioid-related deaths from 2017 to 2018.
Experts say the digital age makes it easier for people to access the opioids that fuel their addiction.
“An individual does not need to interface with a drug trafficker or a drug trafficking organization,” Chester says. “They can get on their own laptop, they can get on the dark web, they can go to a vendor that will sell them the drugs.”
Izquierdo says working to combat the crisis comes down to finding a balance.
“There’s a public safety aspect but there’s also a behavior health aspect,” Izquierdo says. “It’s really important for us to focus on a cross sectional approach of helping and enforcing.”