In true political style, Representative Tom Calter has started running a campaign, but this time it’s not about re-election, it’s about educating his constituents on illegal and prescription drug use and its human toll on the South Shore.
Calter represents the 12th Plymouth district, which consists of approximately 40,000 registered voters living in Kingston, Halifax, Plympton, Duxbury’s Precinct 1 and parts of Plymouth and Middleboro.
Calter attended Monday’s Board of Selectmen’s meeting to ask selectmen for their help in fighting illegal drugs, especially heroin, which is on the rise all over the country, resulting in many deaths.
Calter said he has spent the last three months speaking on the drug use problem, holding the first of his forums on the topic in October. Calter is focusing his efforts on educating the public about legally obtained synthetic marijuana and illegally used prescription drugs, which he calls “gateway drugs” because they lead to heroin use. He also explained how towns can fight these substances at the local and state levels by enacting local health laws and supporting legislation.
Synthetic drugs include synthetic marijuana (cannabinoids) and synthetic stimulants and synthetic psychedelic/hallucinogens, and include the substances known as Spice or K2, or bath salts, said Calter. They are sold legally in convenience stores, smoke shops and other retail stores. These substances are not regulated by the Federal Drug Administration because they are labeled “not for human consumption,” but Calter said people smoke them to get high and they are 500 times stronger than marijuana. They cause people to hallucinate and the hallucinations can reoccur even years after taking the drugs, according to Calter.
Synthetic drugs were the third most frequently used illegal drug for eighth graders, according to a 2012 study by the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Kids find out about these substances on the Internet, said Calter.
Prescription drugs, especially the pain killers Oxycontin and oxycodone, which are often prescribed after surgeries and can be found in many local medicine cabinets, can lead to heroin addiction, said Calter. Getting hooked on the opium in these pills can cause people to search for them on the street. One Oxycontin pill costs $80 but heroin costs only $4.
“Heroin is very available everywhere in Southeastern Massachusetts,” he said. “You take it one time and it owns you. It’s that powerful.”
Fifty percent of people who try heroin for the first time die of an overdose, Calter added.
Also, the elderly are often victimized for their prescription drugs as drug addicts target their homes for break-ins.
In Duxbury in 2012, 118 people were admitted to hospitals for drug treatment. Of these people, 46 percent were there for heroin, and 80 percent were ages 21-45, according to Calter, who cited figures provided by the Department of Public Health for 2012.
“It’s so serious,” he said. “This has become an epidemic.”
State and federal lawmakers are trying to combat the use of synthetic drugs, Calter said, but as soon as laws are passed banning certain ingredients, the manufacturers of synthetic marijuana change the ingredients, staying one step ahead. Also, because incense and bath salts are legal products, they cannot be completely removed from store shelves.
Calter asked Duxbury selectmen for their help in fighting the drug problem. First, he wants Duxbury’s Board of Health to enact a regulation that prohibits the sale of synthetic marijuana and related substances to anyone under 18 years old and in “any food-related establishments or operations licensed by the Board of health.”
Middleborough and Attleborough have enacted these BOH regulations and other local towns are considering doing the same, said Calter.
Next, Calter requested that the selectmen “take a leadership role” by either holding a drug education forum in Duxbury or by inviting others to attend one locally. Calter is holding a substance abuse awareness program on April 1, from 7-9 p.m. at Plymouth North High School featuring Plymouth County Judge Rosemary Minehan, a drug treatment center director and a Plymouth parent who lost a child suddenly to drugs.
Finally, Calter urged Duxbury to invest in Narcan, a drug used by police officers and emergency medical personnel to counter the effects of opiate overdoses including heroin or morphine. Narcan helps restore breathing to someone who has overdosed.
Selectman Shawn Dahlen asked how the local Board of Health can make an impact. Calter said that because Massachusetts is a home rule state, the board of health has the power to ban sales to minors and in places that it licenses. The Board of Health can fine establishments that violate its laws and also shut them down if they don’t comply.
Selectmen noted that residents can turn in unwanted prescription drugs at a drop-off box at the police station.