Nine opiate users overdose in 50 hours in Barre

Narcan

Opiate overdose rescue kits contain a naloxone nasal spray. File photo by Trent Campbell/Addison Independent

Nine people overdosed on opiates in Barre City over the course of about 50 hours this weekend, according to police. One person died.Barre City Police Chief Tim Bombardier said Monday that law enforcement and ambulance personnel responded to nine reports of overdoses over the weekend.

Eight people were revived using Narcan, or naloxone, an overdose-reversing medication many emergency responders now carry in Vermont. Bombardier did not release personal information pending notification of family.

The overdoses over the weekend were a sharp increase over the number the city’s first responders typically see. In July there were four overdoses. Before this weekend, there had been two in August, Bombardier said.

He suggested there was something different about the drugs being taken in recent days. “The particular stuff that was around this weekend is really bad stuff,” he said.

Bombardier said police “have no idea where it’s coming from at the moment.” Packaging does not appear to be consistent, he said. Some came in clear bags, others in plain white or blue bags, or in white bags marked with a handgun and the words “training day.”

First responders needed to administer multiple doses of naloxone to some people to revive them. One person took eight doses of naloxone, Bombardier said.

Harry Chen

Dr. Harry Chen is the health commissioner. File photo by Erin Mansfield/VTDigger

The overdoses prompted the Department of Health to warn street drug users Monday that a particularly “deadly” strain of heroin is in the area.

The department said the overdoses appear to be linked to bags of heroin marked “Game of Thrones.” They are possibly laced with fentanyl, a synthetic opiate 50 times more potent than heroin, according to the department.

“If you continue to use street drugs, or know someone who does, we urge you to be aware of the current danger out there,” Health Commissioner Dr. Harry Chen said in a statement. “We want to prevent deaths from overdose, and have alerted naloxone distribution sites and given some precautionary advice for those people who continue to use.”

The department encouraged street drug users not to use alone; to avoid mixing with other substances, including alcohol and benzodiazepines; to test the strength before using the entire dose; and to reduce the amount used at one time.

Trisha Conti of the Vermont Forensics Lab could not comment on whether any drug samples connected with the overdoses had been submitted for testing at the lab because samples are considered part of open investigations.

However, she said, if law enforcement did submit samples, they likely would be processed within a few days. That information would be reported back to the agency that submitted the sample. If there is a pattern of fentanyl-laced heroin, that information will also be shared with the Department of Health to issue public announcements.

Bombardier urged central Vermont residents who are dependent on opiates and who wish to seek treatment to take advantage of Project Safecatch, a program through which police help people connect to addiction treatment.

People can come into the police station and dispose of drug paraphernalia, and law enforcement will help connect them with treatment without risk of arrest. Two people have used the program through the Barre City Police Department since it was implemented earlier this year, according to the chief.

“We’d rather help somebody get help than try to pull them back from an overdose,” Bombardier said.