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Authorities allay fears of strong heroin 

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Staff writers 
Monday, April 18, 2016

AMHERST – Two days following an overdose that involved “very strong heroin,” according to Amherst Fire Chief Tim Nelson, local officials said Friday there is no evidence to show a more lethal batch has made its way into the area.

While what the man at Craig’s Place homeless shelter used Wednesday could be a powerful strain of heroin, Amherst Police Capt. Jennifer Gundersen said there may be other factors.

"An overdose isn't always reflective of the strength or potency of the narcotic.  There could be other circumstances involved," Gundersen said.

Still, Northampton Police Chief Jody Kasper said the incident Wednesday has her department watching overdoses closely.

“If Amherst is having overdoses we’d certainly keep an eye out over here for a strong strain coming into our community,” Kasper said, adding that Northampton’s emergency responders have seen 18 heroin overdoses since Jan. 1, the most recent of which was on April 4.

Gundersen said there are other reasons why Wednesday’s incident may have appeared more dangerous. For instance, the individual may have used too much heroin, or may not have used heroin in a while, possibly after spending time in jail.

Tim Purington, director of harm reduction services at Tapestry Health, said the man who overdosed Wednesday had overdosed before, and that “people who’ve overdosed before are at increased risk of overdosing again.”

Purington said he has not seen any uptick in overdoses.

“People are certainly still overdosing, but we haven’t heard about big clusters of overdoses like we do every once in a while, which can suggest there’s a particularly strong batch,” said Purington.

Criminal versus medical

Gundersen said that because the overdose Wednesday night — which was treated with Narcan — was a call for medical assistance, making sure the man would be OK was the priority for police at the scene.

"When we go on medical assists, we're hoping to get them the medical attention they need," Gundersen said.

Criminal incidents related to heroin, said Gundersen, remain minimal.

“It is not a crime that is often reported to us,” Gundersen said.

Statistics Gundersen provided show the number of people arrested for possession of a Class A drug or possession with intent to distribute a Class A drug remains relatively small, with four so far in fiscal year 2016, since July 1, 2015.

Eight individuals were taken into custody on the charge over the previous four fiscal years, with none in fiscal year 2015, three in fiscal 2014, four in fiscal 2013 and one in fiscal 2012.

But heroin is evident in the community, showing itself most often in vehicle and house break-ins and petty larcenies that could mean someone needs money.

“Generally, the offense occurs because someone is not paying their bills and is using their money to feed a drug habit,” Gundersen said.

Amanda Drane can be contacted at adrane@gazettenet.com.

Scott Merzbach can be contacted at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.