By Dave Rogers
---- — AMESBURY — It’s a situation that may seem unthinkable — you enter a public restroom by yourself or with a small child and almost trip over a person sprawled out on the floor overdosing on heroin.
Such was the case Monday afternoon when a local mother walked into an Amesbury Town Park bathroom and found a 40-year-old woman on the floor in distress, an encounter that elicited strong reaction and shock from other families at the park. The victim, also from Amesbury, was revived by local firefighters and transported to an area hospital, where she remained yesterday.
Amesbury Deputy Fire Chief David Mather said he didn’t know of the specifics regarding Monday’s ambulance call, but in general terms emergency responders will administer Narcan, also known as naloxone, to treat opiate or heroin overdoses. Mather called narcan very effective in reversing the effects of a heroin or opiate overdose.
What happened Monday is by no means an isolated incident in Amesbury, according to police, who have noticed a dramatic uptick in recent years in the number of addicts shooting up in public places. Be it restaurant or gas station bathrooms, inside parked cars or town parks, addicts don’t wait until they are in a private place. The urge becomes so overpowering, they’ll shoot up as soon as they have purchased their fix.
Days before Monday’s incident, police received a call from a local gas station that someone had been in one of their bathrooms for about an hour. When police arrived, they discovered a person had been getting high in there.
“That happens all the time,” Amesbury police Lt. Kevin Donovan said.
“It’s has gotten to the point where it’s affecting the quality of life in the city,” Crime Prevention officer Thomas Hanshaw said. “We’re seeing overdoses left and right, but we’re also seeing the crimes related to that.”
To feed what can be a $100 habit per day if not more, addicts who don’t have a steady means of income resort to house burglaries, car breaks, stealing from family members or selling their bodies on the street. In many cases, drug addicts are breaking into people’s homes and cars, stealing whatever isn’t nailed down, according to police. Last month a man living in a Main Street apartment was arrested for a nine-month crime spree in which he broke into homes and cars throughout the neighborhood.
Public heroin use and crimes related to purchasing drugs aren’t isolated in Amesbury, local police are quick to point out.
“It’s an issue that every community is dealing with,” Donovan said.
Still, local police are in the process of revisiting crime prevention methods related to drug use, hoping to be as proactive as possible instead of reacting to emergencies such as Monday’s overdose. Police also look to the public to report suspicious activity that might help them solve drug-related crimes. But making a dent in a scourge that has been with the community for decades won’t be done overnight.
“It’s just getting to the point where you see things like that,” Hanshaw said, regarding public drug use within city limits.
Over the years, police have surmised that stealing copper and other metals has become one of the most popular way drug addicts have obtained enough cash to pay for their next fix. That has prompted them to keep an ever-watchful eye on the city’s metal yards.
In July, two men known to local authorities were arrested on felony nighttime breaking and entering charges and larceny from a building after they were caught stealing $5 worth of aluminum cans from a Railroad Avenue scrap metal dealer. After their arrest, one of the suspects admitted to police that he and his partner had been responsible for at least three other burglaries in town.
In neighboring Salisbury, officers were confronted with a rash of beachfront housebreaks where thieves would break into vacant vacation homes and steal copper. The problem became so serious that police issued a Code Red phone blast to beach-area residents warning them of the break-ins. In February, a Haverhill man was arrested in connection with at least three of the housebreaks. Police were tipped off about the Haverhill man’s involvement by two alleged addicts who broke into houses for him to help pay for their next hits.
Earlier this month, a Hampton, N.H., man was arrested for allegedly stealing truck radiators from a used truck dealer on Elm Street. Police say the man admitted he was a heroin addict and was stealing the radiators to feed his habit.
The resurgence of drug overdoses has caught the attention of Essex County District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett, who is expected to broach the subject and heroin use in general as part of his annual Policymaker’s Breakfast for state legislators, police chiefs, school superintendents and other officials. This year’s breakfast is scheduled for Nov. 19, and will feature an address by Dr. Sharon Levy, director of the Adolescent Substance Abuse Program at Boston Children’s Hospital, according to D.A. spokeswoman Carrie Kimball-Monahan.
“County-wide, we have seen an increase in overdose deaths and anecdotally have heard that heroin usage seems to be increasing,” Kimball-Monahan said.