A decade-long epidemic of Massachusetts heroin-related deaths reached a high in 2003, says a new report quoted in the Boston Globe. Substance-abuse specialists said that the continued spread of heroin is a classic example of market-driven economics. Today, a small bag of heroin can be purchased for as little as $4, cheaper than a six-pack of beer. To entice young users, dealers sometimes offer free samples.
Deaths from opiates have climbed markedly since 1990, when 94 people succumbed. “We have a major crisis,” said Elizabeth Funk, president of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Corporations of Massachusetts. “One would assume that society sooner, rather than later, would be attentive to the situation. We don’t put these people on barges and ship them off to the middle of the ocean. They’re not going away.” The increase in deaths in 2003 happened as state government cut spending for substance-abuse treatment significantly. Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey headed a commission to review substance-abuse treatment in Massachusetts, and a May report from that commission called for better coordination of services among government agencies. It also championed prevention efforts. After the report, the administration of Gov. Mitt Romney increased by $9.1 million what it had committed for the current budget year for the Bureau of Substance Abuse Services. Drug-treatment specialists said that money only restored the bureau’s finances to the 2004 level.