The death toll for opiate overdoses continues to climb across the nation, hitting small towns the hardest. Last year Amherst reported seventeen deaths from opiate overdoses, an increase from the twelve deaths from the previous year. Reports show that dozens more people succumbed to overdoses that were not fatal, bringing the number of addicted to a record high.
While these numbers may seem low when compared to bigger cities, Amherst has been devastated by these deaths and officials agree that opiate addiction has come to roost in their town. These figures and the concern of communities members drew a crowd 200 strong to a community forum that was hosted at Town Hall on Wednesday.
The forum was sponsored by the Amherst Task Force and led by Anne F. Rohrer, the coalition coordinator. She brought updates and reports regarding the growing opiate epidemic that has been plaguing the nation.
“We were once considered to be one of safest areas in the United States,” Rohrer said as she addressed the crowd. “We were hailed as one of the top communities to raise your family. While I agree with those statements, that does not make us immune to the realities of our society. This is a great place to live, but we have to help fix the problems in our communities.”
In addition to Anne’s statements, the Amherst Police Department was there in a show of solidarity. Gregory J. Trotter, an Amherst school resources officer spoke at the forum to help dispel misinformation about prescription drug use. He mentioned that many people believe that opiates such as oxycodone, fentanyl, and hydrocodone, are safer than street drugs. This is not the case and they can often lead to a serious addiction that steamrolls youth into illegal drugs.
While the average street price for opiates currently rests at around two dollars per milligram, users will quickly build a tolerance and need more of the drugs to satisfy their cravings. This can turn into a serious money drain, says Jeffrey Gilbert, an Amherst Police Detective, “Long-time users can have a habit that hits $140 to $160 a day. Not many people can afford that so they turn to crime.”
The commander of the narcotics unit at the Police Department in Amherst released reports that show that the national death toll of opiate addictions has increased 430 percent in the last ten years. Local deaths by opiate overdose are now 74% of the total deaths in one year.
Local community members have been coming forward to combat this epidemic. Many are calling for the increase of restrictions for the sale of opiates, including Avi Israel. Israel’s twenty-year-old son, Michael, killed him after struggling with his opiate addiction. His mother stands at the front of this fight and has been pushing for the creation of a local database that will help doctors identify who is abusing their prescriptions.
“What we are doing here tonight is needed. We need to bring this into the open,” Israel stated. “We need to grasp that this is a disease, just like cancer or diabetes. The stigma that is attached to opiate addiction is causing us to lose our kids. Our community won’t stand for it.”