OxyContin and Heroin Addiction on the South Shore

Despite efforts to raise awareness, opiate abuse is still one of the biggest drug problems facing Massachusetts.

“It’s how your community takes those struggles, deals with it, and keeps going on,” Weymouth mayor Susan Key says in the opening moments of Narcotic Misconceptions, a new documentary about opiate addiction in Weymouth and across the South Shore. While the town is still dealing with devastating addiction problems, filmmaker Nick Martel sorts through the complex struggle of addiction and shows how communities can work together to fight and prevent OxyContin and heroin abuse.

The film features interviews with doctors and public officials about the physical and social cost of addiction, as well as reflections from parents who’ve dealt with their childrens’ struggle, and a woman who had been in throws of addiction while living in Weymouth. Like the documentary itself, the stories are honest and straightforward. One of the most powerful messages? The stigma attached to addicts and their families is fueling the problem by keeping it in the dark.

In 2009, Massachusetts created a commission to research the opiate epidemic, and the findings are detailed in the OxyContin and Heroin Commission Report. In the opening pages of the results, the commission also points to the shame of Oxycontin and heroin abuse: “Because of the stigma surrounding substance abuse, the opiate epidemic is left in the shadows and little light has been put upon reforming the policies involving substance abuse in the Commonwealth.”

Laying out the problem as it was, the commission found staggering numbers about opiate addiction. Between 1992 and 2002, the opiate addiction rate in the state increased by 950 percent (OxyContin was approved by the FDA in 1995). From 2002 to 2007, 3,265 Massachusetts residents died of opiate-related overdoses. Massachusetts has also been hit hard in terms of dollars. In 2005 the total cost of all types of substance abuse was more than $4.5 billion, or 21.8 of the state’s total budget for that year.

While OxyContin use is still an epidemic and the personal stories tragic, Martel concludes his movie with tales of redemption and hope. The most promising solution, as Dr. John F. Kelly tells in the movie is prevention. “As they say, an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure. Prevention is the way to go,” Kelly says.

Which makes it all the more unfortunate that the 2009 commission report wrote, “For every $100 the state spends on substance abuse and addiction, only $1.45 goes toward prevention, treatment, and research.” In the absence of a state spending increase, Martel recognizes that prevention and treatment start with individuals and communities, and he’s certainly doing his part by educating and opening up the discussion.

Narcotic Misconceptions airs daily on Local Access channel 11, and is available in its entirety online.