Metro, Newton

Newton Police Chief Says Fentanyl Contamination and Introduction of New Drugs May Complicate Opioid Crisis

Fentanyl contamination and the introduction of new drugs might account for recent increases in opioid overdose incidents both in Newton and statewide, said John Carmichael, Newton chief of police, at a quarterly discussion with the Public Safety & Transportation Committee of the Newton City Council on Thursday. 

From January to August, the Newton Police Department (NPD) recorded 20 incidents of overdose and four fatalities. Those numbers are lower than the 39 overdoses and five fatalities reported in 2019, though they are equivalent to the totals for the full year of 2021.

“When we started to see an increase in overdoses here in Massachusetts, a lot of things were put into place to try and immediately deal with that, ” Carmichael said. “We’re not there yet. We’re continuing to see this epidemic affect individuals and families across the state, including here in Newton.”

Carmichael said that the spread of xylazine, an animal tranquilizer, has complicated the opioid crisis across Massachusetts. The drug is frequently mixed with opioids to augment their effects. Naloxone, used to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose, does not work when xylazine is involved, as it is not an opioid, Carmichael said. 

Another complicating factor, Carmichael said, was fentanyl cross-contamination. Traces of fentanyl have been discovered in cocaine, methamphetamine, and some counterfeit Adderall pills.

“In Massachusetts [and] in other states, we have seen overdoses where an unwitting person [who] used cocaine, for example, has an overdose from fentanyl because of the small amounts of that drug …  [are] so powerful” Carmichael said. “And unbeknownst to that user, they end up [overdosing].”

The opioid crisis in Newton is largely confined to adults, not teenagers, which doesn’t follow national patterns. Overdose caused the death of 492 adolescents in 2019, according to a medical journal published on the JAMA network. In 2021, this number rose to 1146. 

“Our age ranges were higher than what you do see in some communities,” he said. “Thankfully, so far, we have not been dealing with anything trickling down and have it under that age cohort … to teens and that type of thing. And hopefully that’s something we really want to try and educate and prevent.”

September 11, 2022