A young woman died last week in Plymouth District Court from an overdose and a juror there was saved this week, according to Sen. Therese Murray, who next week will welcome her colleagues to her district to help address the state's opiate addiction crisis.
Over the past 24 hours, Murray and District Court Judge Rosemary Minehan, who oversees drug court sessions in Plymouth, have raised the alert level on the issues, with Minehan telling attendees at a State House briefing about what it's like to preside during sessions where litigants sometimes require medical attention and Murray again asserting that the crisis had hit hard south of Boston and on Cape Cod.
An inordinate amount of overdoses
"The Cape is experiencing also an inordinate amount of overdoses," Murray said during an interview on WATD-FM Thursday. "It goes right across the age range. But particularly for our young people it's just an epidemic. They get hooked. We had two last week. We had one that survived and one that didn't survive right here in Plymouth last week."
District court judges can involuntarily commit dangerous drug and alcohol addicts for treatment, and the court with the most such commitments is Quincy, followed by Brockton, and then Plymouth, according to Minehan.
More drug OD deaths than from cars and guns combined
According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, 916 people died as a direct result of drug use in 2009, more than motor vehicle accidents and firearms combined. The 13.9 per 100,000 rate of drug-induced deaths in Massachusetts is also well above the national per capita rate of 12.8.
Murray said a juror was saved in the courtroom in recent days because a woman whose child has a drug addiction was carrying Narcan in her pocketbook.
"He's completely out of it, no heartbeat. A woman in the back of the jury room says, 'I belong to Learn to Cope. I have a Narcan.' She opens her pocketbook and out pops her mascara, and she has a Narcan," Minehan told lawmakers and staff at a briefing Wednesday. "Dude, he wakes up looks at the court officer and says, 'Am I going to get into trouble for not being a juror today?' That's our life in the courthouse."
One woman died in Plymouth court from an overdose
Naltrexone, or Narcan, is described by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration as an "opioid antagonist" approved to treat opioid dependence and alcohol dependence.
Another recent court attendee did not survive. "We lost a young woman last week in Plymouth District Court who was in the court and overdosed and died," said Murray.
After the Wednesday briefing on civil commitments, Minehan showed a video of a semi-coherent woman in Plymouth Court, taken about 24 hours before her death. She said she had received the video from the woman's aunt.
"I never thought I'd say things to the court officers, 'Tran, can you make sure the sheriff knows that's a benzo withdrawal and he can't cold turkey. I say that. I thought I was going to say 'allowed, denied, overruled, sustained' when I was a judge. I'm saying that," Minehan said.
Individuals with substance abuse problems or their family members can ask a judge to commit them for treatment, which is handled either at treatment facilities in Brockton and New Bedford or if there are no available beds there, at correctional facilities in Framingham and Bridgewater.
In fiscal year 2013, 39 percent of the so-called Section 35 civil commitments were handled by the Department of Corrections, which can be a harrowing place for some, but also better equipped facility to handle more violent addicts, Minehan said.
People who are in court for a civil commitment can often be suffering from withdrawal or extremely intoxicated, said Minehan, who said she has to look out for people's symptoms.
Courtroom is not a medical facility
"We're not a medical facility," said Minehan, who said waiting for the designated forensic psychologist that is required for a civil commitment can delay treatment. She said, "If they're detoxing actively, they're getting sicker. Sometimes that [designated forensic psychologist] is in Fall River, and we have to wait four or five hours for that DFP to come. That's happening. I've got court officers coming upstairs saying, 'Judge, Smith is going down. I think he's going to have a seizure.'"
The Special Commission on Drug Abuse and Treatment Options is scheduled to hold a hearing at Plymouth Public Library Tuesday at 1 p.m. Murray said the public is invited to attend but testimony will be allowed only from invited individuals who she said were "experts."
Commission to hold meeting on the Cape
Murray said the commission would also hold a similar meeting on Cape Cod.
While Minehan was discussing civil commitment of addicts, the state is also aiming to increase treatment options for people who are drug users and accused of crimes.
Drug courts have helped steer people into treatment, Murray said, but Plymouth and other communities south of Boston are struggling with high levels of alcohol and drug addiction, and civil commitments.
The Trial Court is hoping to expand the number of specialty drug court sessions, which gives criminal offenders a chance to avoid jail time.
"One concept is regionalizing specialty courts because we are not going to be able to put a specialty court in every single courthouse," Director of Specialty Courts Mary Hogan Sullivan told the News Service. She said, "We would be targeting areas where there's a high need."