Residents of Boston’s Charlestown area are mourning the deaths of a 17-year-old high school hockeystar and his girlfriend, 16, who apparently overdosed on drugs. The Boston Globe says the deaths have has renewed anxiety about an opiate problem that activists and officials say has reached frightening levels in Charlestown. “It’s just getting worse. We’re losing,” said Peter Looney of the neighborhood group Charlestown Against Drugs. “What’s happening over here is the good kids are starting to experiment with some lethal drugs, and they’re getting younger. Every time it happens, it breaks my heart.”
John Auerbach of the Boston Public Health Commission said that Charlestown has an elevated level of heroin use, and that its opiate problem “has grown pretty steadily over the years.” Across the city “we’re seeing a trend among younger people to both use and overdose on heroin and other opiates,” he said. “The profile of the average heroin user is increasingly a younger person. Several years ago, the average age was 35, and now we’re seeing the average age decreasing” as more 15- to 18-year-olds use the drug.
Heroin accounted for 50 percent of the admissions to publicly funded treatment facilities in Greater Boston last year. The drug has bypassed alcohol, which accounts for about 35 percent of treatment, as the leading cause of admissions.
The prescription painkiller OxyContin appears to be gaining in popularity among substance abusers, Auerbach said. “The number of people who are calling help lines, saying that the drug of choice for either themselves or a loved one is OxyContin, has grown in Suffolk County,” Auerbach said. “In a five-year period through 2002, the number of calls rose from nothing to about 500 a year, more than one call a day. We suspect that we are currently getting more calls than that.”