The addicted city

By RIC KAHN  |  April 3, 2008

This citywide drug discourse, shot from the lips of the poets to the politicians, has contributed to a great attitudinal turnaround, says Ron Morin, who, when he talked about a serious drug problem in Gloucester a few years back, was told he was a self-serving bureaucrat. “We have changed the relationship of addiction to the community—from suppression and denial and enabling to openness and honest discussion.” Morin says he’s received calls from wives saying, “My husband’s addicted to heroin. I’m sick and tired of making job excuses for him.” From mothers saying, “I’m tired of my son stealing my money for drugs.” From parents saying, “My daughter died of drugs, now I can talk about it.”

Morin feels the city fathers deserve a pat on the back for moving out of the quicksand. (Others say city actions should be seen as a zero-sum game—anything compared with nothing looks like a lot.) After some fiddling and diddling around, the city council voted an extra $12,900 for police anti-drug operations. It committed $10,000 to NUVA for drug rehab. With $20,000 from a federal Community Development Block Grant and $14K donated from local artists who auctioned off their works, NUVA in August opened a post-rehab drop-in center—a totally drug-free environment, says Morin, in a city awash with drugs. In February NUVA hired a full time AIDS coordinator with the state Department of Public Health funds. And the city fathers directed that a drug task force be set up, headed by Morin. (Already producing community-education public-service announcements on cable, Morin also wants to create, among other things, a Gloucester Peace Corps and to focus on the desperate need for more detox beds—currently there are only six public drug-detox beds on the North Shore, all of them in Danvers.)

Now, after having undergone a transformation in thinking that to some must have seemed as intense as that engendered in a Vietnamese political re-education camp, the city finds itself street-fighting a heroin epidemic that some say is the worst to hit here since H arrived in earnest two decades ago. Down on pavement level, in crunch time-ville, there is a frenzy of activity—as if somebody’s pressed the fast-forward button—as, after years of moving in slow-mo, Gloucester plays catch-up and tries to shuck its title as the commonwealth’s per capita leader of the smack pack.

***

Word of another possible heroin OD crackled over Marge Doyle’s Bearcat 210 scanner a few months back. Doyle, 41, looked out her parlor window, saw the police and rescue squads racing to a door. Seems the wife inside refused help, had already brought her man back to life. Doyle quit listening to her squawk box after that one; it was starting to make her too nervous. In Riverdale Park, a low-and-moderate-income public-housing development of 1940s-vintage brick-and-clapboard duplexes, a parlor window can offer a clear view into the local world of heroin habits and habitués.

From her window and beyond, Doyle has seen one address raided four times in two months. In one visit, police arrested a Belmont woman, an Allston man, 20 bags they believed contained heroin, needles, syringes, and records of suspected drug interactions.

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