Editor’s Note: The following is the first story in a five-part series on various issues related to drug use in Wilmington. Check back throughout the upcoming days for more stories on the topic.
The Wilmington Police Department handles a wide variety of issues on a daily basis. But one of those issues has become too common in recent months, and it's something police are hoping to put a stop to.
“Illicit drug trafficking is a form of domestic terrorism to some extent,” said Wilmington Police Chief Michael Begonis. “It is preying on folks who are more susceptible and who need a better life. And it’s something that we need to deal with head on.”
There have been a wide variety of incidents in recent months with ties to prescription drugs and heroin use, leading many residents in town to question how much of a drug problem Wilmington has.
While several town officials acknowledged that substance abuse is something the town must attempt to curtail, they also admitted they are not the only town in the state or country seeing an uptick in this area.
“We need to figure this out not just as a town, but as a country,” said Board of Selectmen chairman Michael Newhouse. “I think folks need to be cognizant of it. We have to do anything we can to deter the use of any kind of illegal substances. We need to take care of not only ourselves, but the young people in our society especially.”
Begonis said that while he does not believe there has been a dramatic spike in the number of drug problems his department has dealt with in recent years, there are two aspects that have changed significantly.
The Chief said drug use is more prevalent among teenagers and college-aged residents than he has ever seen. He also said the abuse of prescription drugs nationwide is higher than at any point during his career.
Though there is a long list of reasons why this could be the case, Begonis said he believes the decriminalization of marijuana is one of them. He believes that when that law was passed in Massachusetts, it sent the wrong message about drug use.
In many cases prescription drug abuse is closely tied with heroin use, an issue that has led to multiple overdoses, including fatal ones, in Wilmington over the last several months. Heroin is a cheaper alternative to prescription drugs, so Begonis said when young drug users do not have the financial means to continue abusing prescription medications, they often turn to the cheaper, more potent alternative.
What concerns town officials, including Public Health Director Shelly Newhouse, the most is how young many of the Wilmington residents are who have overdosed or been arrested in recent months.
“Anything that hits our youth the way substance abuse has is disturbing. It’s troubling, and we would like to see what we can do to stop it,” said Newhouse. “With the recent headlines of overdoses and arrests that we’ve seen, it’s something that the Health Department has to take a look at.”
Town Manager Michael Caira, who has worked in town for more than two decades, said he believes there has been an increase in drug use and abuse in the last year.
“We are seeing what appears to be an uptick, but it’s consistent with what’s being seen nationwide,” said Caira. “I think the fact that it’s reaching what people believe to be the safe suburbs at an increased rate is certainly disturbing to me, and to everybody. People need to be educated on the signs so they can be more diligent in terms of trying to dissuade folks from making these terrible decisions.”
Shelly Newhouse is in the initial stages of forming a drug coalition, something that Wilmington Patch will touch on later in the week as a part of this series of stories.
Begonis said his department will continue its attempt to find ways to slow and stop illegal drug use.
“Wilmington does not have a drug problem per se,” said Begonis. “We don’t have open drug dealing in the streets like other cities have a real issue with and are constantly battling. We’re obviously aware of the issues that are happening in Wilmington, and we’re dealing with them as appropriately as possible and in the confines of the law. This is something that every law enforcement department in America is dealing with.”
Editor's Note: The quote in the third paragraph of the article was corrected to indicate that Police Chief Michael Begonis said "Illicit drug trafficking" and not "Illicit drug use" as was originally written.