Warren faces heroin 'epidemic'
The council will hold a special hearing Tuesday, July 1, to discuss the “epidemic” of heroin use in Warren and come up with what one councilor called a “comprehensive response” to the problem. Police and town officials admit the problem has grown as bad as they’ve ever seen it.
“It’s widespread, not just in Warren, but nationally,” said Warren Town Council president Chris Stanley, who first sent a memo about heroin and “social ills” to his fellow councilors several months ago and called for the upcoming meeting.
“We’ve had a number of issues with heroin; we’ve had some deaths.”
Though he said he hadn’t yet heard of the upcoming meeting, Warren Deputy Police Chief Joseph Loiselle said Monday that heroin is definitely here, and officers are doing what they can to fight it.
“What we’re seeing here is a microcosm of what’s taking place nationally,” he said. “I can say that in the 25 years I’ve been here, its gone way up, no question.”
Warren Police Lt. Roland Brule said 2014 has brought in increase in heroin calls — and deaths.
"The last three years, I think we had one death each year that was a suspected overdose," he said. "This year we have had several, and we're only halfway through the year."
He did not clarify, but the state medical examiner's office is awaiting toxicology tests from a Warren man who died recently. And another man died of a suspected heroin overdose in his State Street apartment earlier this year, a fire department volunteer said.
Alan Machado is the community outreach director for Riverwood Rehabilitation, a Railroad Avenue mental health facility that works with people suffering from various addictions. While he said he has not seen an increase in heroin use among Riverwood’s clients, he is not surprised that opiate use is prevalent in Warren.
“The drug of choice with the people we work with is crack cocaine, he said. “But I don’t doubt (that heroin use is on the rise). It’s cheap, and Warren is so close to Providence.”
Heroin made regional news earlier this year after people across southern New England started dying of heroin that had been cut with fentanyl, a powerful narcotic. The source of that heroin is still unknown, but it is continuing to kill users. Rescue crews, treatment centers and other agencies across New England have started getting new training to deal with the increase, including the use and administration of Narcan, a drug that counters the effects of opiate overdoses. Mr. Machado said Riverwood’s staff received training in the use of the drug about six weeks ago, and it is currently carried by Warren Rescue paramedics and EMTs. Deputy Chief Loiselle would like his officers to be trained in its use and application as well.
“That’s one of my goals,” he said.
Though he said there are many reasons for the uptick in heroin use here, Deputy Chief Loiselle believes a big issue is the increase in people abusing prescription pain medication, many types of which are opiate-based.
“The main issue is that folks are now abusing pain pills,” he said. Heroin is often cheaper to get than prescription drugs, so “you’ve got a lot of inexperienced people ending up in the heroin world.”
Mr. Stanley said he has been hearing about Warren’s heroin issues for some time and set up the July 1 meeting to try to bring Warren’s various departments — including building inspection, police, rescue and the council — together to form a “comprehensive” strategy. His goal is not just to cut down on drug use but also to address its ancillary effects, including increased crime around town, and particularly in the Federal and Wood Street areas.
“We have to have a comprehensive response,” he said. “My goal is to bring everyone together, have a series of workshops and come up with an overall strategy.”
It’s a good step, Mr. Machado said, as heroin has long since stopped being just an inner-city problem.
“It’s all over,” he said. “The process (of making heroin) has become really cheap. When people who are addicted to prescription drugs can’t get those pills, they go to heroin. It’s a lot cheaper. Shooting heroin is like playing Russian roulette.”