The addicted city

By RIC KAHN  |  April 3, 2008

She’s witnessed little kids watching their mothers being cuffed and hauled away to jail. She saw a heroin mother staggering around in a daze. The mother’s three- or four-year-old daughter started crying, she couldn’t get in the house. So she dropped her drawers, peed right there on the sidewalk. Other neighbors have seen little kids delivering brown bags to cars, and they weren’t bag lunches. Doyle figures about five percent of the 160 units are somehow drug connected. And the neighborhood kids can tell the druggie addresses from the straight: they’re the ones with the out-of-town license plates—Florida, New York, and Jersey—parked out in front (and later the cop cars coming to raid.) There’s one house that neighbors say is used as a shooting gallery, maybe 15 dopers shooting up at a time, turning Riverdale Park into needle park. Doyle says if you have the right car, and pull up to the right house, you can get your big-smack attack satisfied with door-to-door service. One honk, one bag, two honks, two bags of scag. “You pay the cash, you get the trash,” Doyle says.

Doyle says that since she first moved in, almost 10 years ago, the neighborhood’s gone jittery. “You don’t see people out walking around and being friendly. People are suspicious. I am not a busybody. It’s out there. The last couple of years the drugs have been really bad.”

Last September, Doyle and eight other residents formed the Riverdale Park Tenants Organization. They met with the narcotics cops, organized drug-free parties for the kids. “I have a 16- and an 18-year-old,” Doyle says. “I’m scared to death they’ll get bored one weekend and try some heroin. There’s nothing in this city for kids to do.”

The tenants’ group also started keeping tabs on the drug dealing. And, it seems, maybe the druggies have been keeping an eye on some of them. A few weeks ago, Doyle answered the phone, heard a man’s voice tell her, “Keep your mouth shut. Watch your family.”

Another hazard in talking up a problem is that, like the junkie who comes forward, a neighborhood becomes stigmatized. Marge Doyle’s son asked a friend from the Annisquam section of Gloucester to sleep over his house. The kid’s stepfather stepped in, said, “You’re not staying the night. It’s a drug-infested area.” Doyle called him up, said, “It’s not only here. It’s in your neighborhood, too.”

And it’s down on Stacy Boulevard near the heroic Man at the Wheel, in certain barrooms, in cars, in the cellar of the modest family homestead. Outsiders coming to town keep asking the same question: why for so many has Fishtown become Dopetown? There are as many theories being peddled in Gloucester as there are brands of heroin that’ve been here (Power 95, 7 Life, Blue Diamond, Red White & Blue, Hick Power, TNT).

Gloucester has always been a hard-living, hard-drinking town—30 year-round bars and restaurants serving booze, 19 liquor stores, nine club licenses for alcohol. When heroin hit Gloucester, in the ‘60s, the younger generation merely segued from the substance of their fathers and forefathers — alcohol — to the newest high in town. People talk about Gloucester having an island mentality. Some folks haven’t been over the bridge connecting Gloucester to the rest of the world in seven years. “You’re in your own little world,” says Jim Means, NUVA’s clinical director. “There’s a great sense of uniqueness here, of living separate from everybody else. You combine that with the uniqueness of the drug — it’s so seductive — and it builds on that sense of uniqueness.”

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