The addicted city

By RIC KAHN  |  April 3, 2008

Smack has tended historically to be a working-class drug here—the heroin freaks were freaked out by coke, which was more popular with the richer crowd. And because in Gloucester what goes round, goes round (since there are so few people here), once H caught on it inevitably became deeply rooted, often visiting more than one person per family. (Once source says the majority of families she’s seen with a heroin problem have had more than one member strung out on the drug.) According to Phil Salzman, the town’s tolerance toward alcohol and drugs has fostered an attitude that says, when it’s party time in Gloucester — and the kids are always complaining there’s nothing to do here—you better bring some substance.

The downswing in the fishing industry only increases the daily pressure-cooker of life. And in an independent Gloucester, if you have a problem, you tend to try to take care of it yourself, not reach out of help. You’re in pain, you may seek a way out by sticking a needle in your vein. You don’t think it will cause you any harm. “The sea to some extent inspires people to be themselves, to conquer the unknown,” says Rob Morin. “In the beginning you feel invincible, immortal. Like your grandfather and the great heroes, the fishermen who challenged enormous odds. They try drugs and they don’t think it will get to them. It’s no different than taking a risky ride out in a boat on a tempestuous sea.”

Then again, some folks insist that the drug problem in Gloucester is no worse than it is anywhere else—it’s just that it’s now being talked about more. But out on the avenue it feels like there’s one big hypodermic needle ready to plunge into Gloucester’s mainline. A haystack of needles everywhere. A 15-year-old boy walks into McDonald’s and threatens an employee and a 10-year-old customer. His weapon: a hypodermic needle. A 34-year-old homeless man is arrested on Saturday night.

The charge: illegal possession of a hypodermic needle. Police respond to a domestic disturbance. When they arrive, a guy’s got his girlfriend pinned to the floor. As a cop bends down to see how she is, she tries to bite his leg. The boyfriend interferes, gets nailed for disturbing the peace. Cops open a drawer, they don’t find a copy of Reader’s Digest. They find a needle and a syringe. Wherever people are hooked on needles, you’ll find hookers, many of whom are working to support their habit. Some connect in the bars, like the one who, after reportedly soliciting a guy for sex, allegedly stole $270 from him as he was taking a bath. Others reportedly quietly work Rogers Street, jumping into truck cabs to service guys who are in town to pick up loads of fish. Morin fears that in this way Gloucester could become a national center for the spread of AIDS.

(There are 72 cases of AIDS in Essex Country, which includes 33 cities and towns besides Gloucester. Although there is no official tally for Gloucester, Morin says his unofficial street count showed 12 AIDS cases in the city.)

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