By Joseph Domelowicz Jr.
Despite increased awareness of the dangers posed by opioid abuse and addiction, and redoubled efforts to get opioid users into treatment, the opioid epidemic has continued to worsen across the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and here in Lynn.
It is against this backdrop that the Lynn City Council joined the fray to fight the scourge of opioid use in the city, by seeking to raise public awareness further and undergoing a very public training session on the use of Narcan to combat opioid overdoses.
“The opioid epidemic is front and center here in Lynn and across the Commonwealth,” explained Council President Daniel Cahill, prior to the Tuesday night’s Council meeting. “Public awareness is crucial to combatting addiction.
Tuesday’s Council meeting began as a joint meeting with the Committee on Public Health and Public Safety, and provided updates from the city’s Police Chief Kevin Coppinger, Fire Chief James McDonald and Lynn Health Director Mary Ann O’Connor.
Joining the meeting was Project Cope Director Mark Kennard and Mary Wheeler and Denny Marston of Healthy Streets.
Wheeler and Marston conducted the training for City Councilors, live on Lynn community access television, which followed the speaking portion of the meeting.
Chief Coppinger began by congratulating the Council for taking the unique step of addressing the heroin (Opioid) epidemic directly during a council meeting.
“What you are doing here tonight is a good thing,” said Coppinger. “The Commonwealth of Massachusetts and much of our country has been in an opioid epidemic for several years now.”
According to Lynn Police statistics, the LPD investigates every overdose it knows about, heroin and opioid overdoses in Lynn have been in the rise in each of the last four years.
In 2012, there were 118 opioid overdoses in the city, with 24 of those resulting in death. The 2013 the numbers jumped to 195 overdoses and 24 deaths, but by last year, 2015, there were 336 opioid overdoses investigated by the LPD and 40 deaths, this despite the fact that both Lynn Police and Lynn Fire began carrying Narcan, a drug that blocks the brains ability to be effected by opioids, and thus saved the lives of dozens of other addicts who had overdosed.
In 2015, the city of Lynn public safety agencies used Narcan 217 times to save an overdose victim, meaning that the number of fatal overdoses, out of the 336 recorded in 2015, could have been much higher than 40.
Still, despite that small bit of positive news from the LPD, Health Director O’Connor noted, “the opioid epidemic is the most frustrating public health issue we are dealing with. . .we lost 40 people in this city to opioids last year, but if we lost 40 lives to the flu people would be going crazy.”
Fire Chief McDonald and LFD Emergency Medical Director Joseph Zukas each noted that opioid addiction cuts across all demographics and effects citizens from all walks of life.
“This isn’t just confined to a small area or one group of people, it effects everyone and we see it on a daily basis all over the city,” said Chief McDonald.
Project Cope Director Mark Kennard told the Council and the audience that his organization works constantly to get addicts into treatment, but the first, most crucial step is making sure that they stay alive to get into the treatment.
Kennard noted that “anyone looking for help or treatment can call 1-800-327-5050 and he also offered his personal line, 781-581-9270 as an alternative for anyone seeking help, including faily members.