DA Ryan: Fatal opioid-related ODs expected to decline

Middlesex County had 320 fatal ODs last year

(Chelmsford, MA 08/14/17) Middlesex County District Attorney Marian Ryan holds a press conference. The body of a female involved in a jet ski accident Sun night was recovered from the Merrimack River. August 14, 2017 Staff Photo by Faith Ninivaggi.

LOWELL — Middlesex County is expected to hit its greatest total decrease of fatal opioid-related overdoses since 2017, District Attorney Marian Ryan told The Sun Tuesday.

Ryan, who phoned in to the Sun for a 15-minute interview with Senior Editor Thomas Shattuck and Enterprise Editor Christopher Scott, said the 20% decrease year to date over the same time period last year in opioid-related fatal overdoses in the greater Lowell community is a “reflection of the hard work” Ryan’s task force has done in the area since it initially began in 2013.

More than 2,000 people have been killed by opioid overdoses in Middlesex County since 2010, according to data from the Department of Public Health. Just over 320 people in Middlesex County died from opioid-related overdose deaths last year — the highest number of deaths for any county in the commonwealth, according to 2018 data from the Department of Public Health. There were 356 fatalities in 2017.

“It is a testament to the work of the folks in that area,” Ryan said. “And the strength of our (task force) partnership.”

Ryan said solving the opioid epidemic isn’t “just about bringing fatal overdoses down” over a long period of time. She said figuring out out why people become addicted to opioids is the main way to combat the national issue.

“You want to get those numbers down and at the same time be looking broadly, and deeply, at the problem of why do people find themselves in addiction in the first place,” Ryan said. “That’s what we’ve been able to do … is really become a national model.”

Ryan said she does not predict supervised injections sites — a topic that has been heavily debated in Boston — will open in Massachusetts anytime soon.

The Senate previously introduced a bill that would include the establishment of supervised injection sites — places where someone can inject illegal drugs, which they have obtained themselves, under medical supervision — to help address opioid addiction in January.

Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone said the city plans to open a safe consumption site, according to a Boston.com report.

At least 100 supervised injection sites operate around the world, mainly in Europe, Canada and Australia. No death has been reported in an injection site, according to a 2018 report by NPR. A 2014 review of 75 studies concluded “such places promote safer injection conditions, reduce overdoses and increase access to health services,” according to NPR.

Ryan, however, said safe injection sites are not feasible in Massachusetts given the “state of federal law.”

“While you certainly could be looking at everything, I don’t want that to become a red herring that detracts from the things we are doing and can be doing right now that will not be challenged,” Ryan said.

“We will not be doing anybody a service to send them to a place where they might encounter federal authorities and enforce the federal law,” Ryan added.

Other topics Ryan discussed Tuesday included:

  • U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Suffolk County lawsuit pertaining to ICE in courthouses
  • Current relationship between the DAs office and local law enforcement in Middlesex County
  • Child pornography and rape cases in Dracut and the rise of child pornography across the county
  • How schools and law enforcement handle bullying

The complete podcast can be heard below: