I-Team: Heroin killing young adults in the suburbs at rapid rate

Heroin has killed at least 108 western Massachusetts people since 2013

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – State health workers are calling it an “epidemic.”  The  22News I-Team takes a closer look at who’s overdosing on heroin.

All parents will want to hear what we found; kids and teens are dying in all communities, not just our cities. However, you won’t find “died from a heroin overdose” in their obituary.

“I went downstairs and turned him over and said ‘oh my god,’” said Springfield’s Jo-Anne Ryan. Ryan’s son Isaiah Brown died weeks after his 21st birthday. Brown was attending Holyoke Community College, his mother said he wanted to be a firefighter.

“A mother never plans to bury their child, especially when they’re 21 years old and healthy and strong and have their whole life ahead of them,” said Ryan.

Police continue to take thousands of bags of heroin off the streets, but It doesn’t take long to find heroin needles tucked away in the woods of any community as more and more people become addicted.

From 2000 to 2012, 5,300 people in Massachusetts were killed in a car accident. Compare that to the 7,000 people who died from heroin overdose in that same time frame. The 22News I-Team discovered the problem is only getting worse.

The I-Team visited or called every town hall in Hampden, Hampshire and Franklin Counties and poured through thousands of death records. We found that heroin or opiates killed 108 people in Hampden, Hampshire and Franklin Counties in 2013 and 2014 so far. That does not take into account dozens of death records from 2014 that have “pending” as it’s cause of death.

Among the people killed, 31 of them died before their 30th birthday, 33 died between the ages of 30-39, 25 were between 40-49, and 19 were older than 50.

In 2013-14, there were:

  • 18 heroin deaths in Springfield and 14 in Holyoke, but the majority are in the suburbs
  • 8 people died from a heroin overdose in West Springfield
  • 8 people died from an overdose in Westfield, Greenfield and Chicopee
  • 7 were from Northampton, and 4 from Easthampton
  • Orange and Ware also had 4 heroin deaths
  • 3 were from South Hadley, Agawam and Amherst respectively
  • 2 people were from Belchertown, Hatfield, Longmeadow, East Longmeadow and Gill
  • Granby, Ludlow, Monson Buckland, Goshen and Hadley all had 1 death from a heroin overdose death

West Springfield’s Gretchen Boss’ son was almost another statistic. He was a state-level high school swimmer who overdosed in his early 20s yet somehow survived. “I was the last person I ever thought this would happen to and this can happen to anybody. and I’ve watched friends, acquaintances, losing their children in suburbia, middle-class suburbia,” said Boss.

Another man who got to keep his life but nearly lost everything else after several heroin overdoses, hopes his story of struggle will make you think twice. He did not want to be identified, but grew up in western Massachusetts and has been clean for 26 years.

(What was your wake up call?) “Well I hit a bottom with it, it made my life unmanageable, I lost everything I owned, I lost all my dignity my hope, all my family relations, my employment possibilities all of it,” said man who did not want to be identified.

If you are a parent, hear it from another. “I’m hoping to do this and tell my story so another mother won’t have to feel this pain. because it’s a pain no one can comprehend until you have to bury your own child,” said Ryan.

See where people in western Massachusetts have died from a heroin overdose since 2013:

Below are some useful links to information if you are someone you know is struggling with addiction.

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