Police in three western Massachusetts cities have seized thousands of bags of heroin and arrested more than a dozen people for heroin trafficking and distribution as they investigate recent overdose deaths.
Police believe an exceptionally pure batch of heroin has caused the deaths of at least eight people in western Massachusetts in the last week.
In Chicopee, four fatal overdoses have occurred in a span of just five days, a drug-related death rate the city of 56,000 people has not seen before, according to Chicopee Police Department Public Information Officer Michael Wilk.
" Our narcotics officers have been on top of this trying to get this stuff off the streets," said Wilk.
Chicopee police along with officers from the Hampden County Drug Task Force and the DEA raided an apartment Thursday and seized 300 bags of heroin and cocaine and arrested two men who were charged with narcotics possession with intent to distribute.
In Holyoke, where three of the overdose deaths occurred, a drug raid by local, state and federal law enforcement agencies this week resulted in the seizure of 1800 bags of heroin and the arrests of eight people.
Police in Springfield, where one of the overdose deaths was reported, discovered 9,000 bags of heroin stashed inside a fake automobile bumper. Four people were arrested. That heroin, which police said was stamped with the name “Hollywood” as a marketing tool, was on the packaging of the heroin linked to some of the recent fatalities.
Wilk said police tried to spread the word through social media about the lethal potency of this batch of heroin.
" People will use a bag of heroin as they are use to, but it is much more potent, so they are getting much more heroin which is stopping their heart and stopping their breathing, " said Wilk.
The arrests in the three cities may temporarily slow the retail heroin trade, but won’t eliminate it, according to police. Wilk said the region needs more treatment beds for people struggling with opioid addiction.
" The addiction is extremely strong and powerful," said Wilk. " It becomes a community problem and everybody has to come together to find a way to get people the rehab they need to get off this drug."
Although the recent deaths occurred in the three cities in Hampden County, Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno said the opioid crisis is not isolated to urban areas of the state.
" I want to commend Gov. Baker for trying to hit this on the front end with prescription drugs which get put out there by some doctors and people get hooked," said Sarno.
Governor Charlie Baker filed a bill to address the opioid addiction crisis last October, and has appealed for the legislature to act quickly now that the winter recess has ended on Beacon Hill.
Legislators are expected to water down some of Baker’s bill, including a provision that would limit doctors to prescribing no more than a 72-hour supply of opioid pills in an initial prescription.