It was a busy week in the battle against heroin in the Merrimack Valley and Southern New Hampshire.
A major drug bust revealed last week involved investigations in both Massachusetts and New Hampshire. It took millions of dollars worth of heroin off the streets.
But the good news was countered by more reports of overdoses, at least one of which resulted in death.
The step forward-step back reports from last week show plainly how difficult a problem the heroin crisis is. This is a long war, not one that will be won in a few quick fights.
On Monday, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey revealed details of the breakup of a heroin mixing and sales operation based in Lawrence. Police seized 22 kilograms of fentanyl-laced heroin in Manchester, N.H., Lawrence and Andover, a haul they said was worth “several million dollars.” Two local men and a Manchester woman were arrested in connection with the investigation.
Jose C. Casellas, 37, of Lawrence was arrested June 25 in Andover and charged with two counts of trafficking in heroin over 200 grams and three counts of possession of a firearm without a license. Police also arrested Luis Nieves of Haverhill, who police said served as a drug runner, and Jeanette Hardy of Manchester, who was charged with possession of heroin with intent to distribute.
Fentanyl, a powerful pain killer, is mixed with heroin to increase its potency. Police say this fentanyl-laced heroin is responsible for many of the overdose deaths that have occurred across the region.
Attorney General Healey said laws regarding fentanyl trafficking need to change.
“Right now in the commonwealth of Massachusetts there is no charge for trafficking of fentanyl as there is for trafficking in heroin or other controlled substances,” she said at the Monday press conference. “I believe it is time to update our laws to address this dangerous trend and make the trafficking of fentanyl a crime.”
The seizure of 22 kilograms took a significant chunk of the local heroin supply off the street. Good news indeed. But within hours of the press conference announcing the drug bust, heroin resumed taking its grim toll across the region.
Early Monday afternoon, Andover police responded to a home on Rock O’Dundee Road where they found a 19-year-old unresponsive after an apparent heroin overdose. Police administered CPR and Narcan, a drug used to counter the effects of a heroin overdose.
The teen was transported to Lawrence General Hospital but did not survive. He is at least the sixth person in Andover to die from a suspected heroin overdose this year.
In examining police records, reporter Tim Lima found police responded to Rock O’Dundee Road several times in June for heroin reports.
On June 8, a 19-year-old Andover man survived an apparent heroin overdose after receiving Narcan, according to police records.
On June 14, police records show that a resident of Rock O’Dundee Road reported that he “just witnessed his neighbor inject heroin into his foot.” When officers arrived, the subject and his mother were spoken to but he “seemed fine.”
Moments after leaving the street June 14, police were again called to Rock O’Dundee Road by a resident who reported that “three youths are walking up the street confronting neighbors about somebody calling the police for suspected heroin use,” records show.
It remains unclear if the events from Rock O’Dundee Road are related to Monday’s overdose death.
Just hours later, Andover police responded to the second apparent overdose in 24 hours. This time, a 35-year-old Burlington man was found unconscious in the bathroom of a home on Atlantic Avenue around 5:50 a.m. Tuesday morning. The man received a dose of Narcan from police and survived, according to police Lt. Ed Guy.
“Within several seconds, the subject became alert and was speaking,” Guy told Lima.
As with any war, there will be battles won and lost. But whether the news is good or bad, it will always be ugly.
That’s the nature of heroin, its production and sale, and the toll it takes on people’s lives.