Surge in heroin use has hit Belmont hard lately
Michael Chamberlain had done heroin before. He had told friends he was miserable, that his father was dying of lung cancer, that he needed to escape. Before, drugs had brought relief.
This time would be different. When he sat on the edge of a bed in a friend’s Belmont home and pushed heroin through a needle into his vein, the injection slowed his breathing, then his heart. By the time Laconia paramedics arrived from their station 4 miles away and administered multiple doses of a life-saving drug called naloxone, it was too late.
It has been nearly two weeks since the police and fire rescuers made their way in the snow to 56 Arlene Drive, a circular road with mostly single-family homes with long driveways and wooded lots. Until that night, Belmont police Chief Mark Lewandoski said his town had not seen much of the surge in heroin overdoses concentrated to the south in Manchester and Nashua, and closer, in bordering Laconia.
Things changed quickly. First, Chamberlain, 26, of Laconia, died. Three nights later, the police returned to the Arlene Drive residence of Jonathan Woodbury, 31, and arrested him on charges of selling the heroin that killed his friend. Woodbury, who called 911 for help the night Chamberlain died, had admitted to a Laconia police officer earlier that day that he felt responsible.
“I killed my best friend,” Woodbury told the officer Feb. 7, according to an affidavit filed in Laconia’s district court. “It’s my fault he’s dead.”
Woodbury is now awaiting trial in Belknap County jail on $200,000 cash-only bail for allegedly selling Chamberlain the two bags of heroin for $60.
The next afternoon, Belmont officers responded to what they were told was a single-vehicle accident near the intersection of Elaine Drive and Tucker Shore Road. Instead of an accident, the police said they found 22-year-old Samuel Vachon of Belmont slumped in the driver’s seat of his truck. Vachon was unconscious, his shirt sleeve rolled up, a syringe in his hand, officers reported.
This time, the administration of naloxone worked. Vachon was revived and taken to Lakes Region General Hospital, where he was released later that day.
Almost immediately after being discharged, the Belmont police arrested him on charges of possession of narcotics and driving under the influence. He is being held in the same jail as Woodbury, on $10,000 cash-only bail.
Heroin is an inexpensive drug derived from morphine that can be smoked or snorted, but the feelings of euphoria and detachment it produces are delivered most rapidly – reportedly in fewer than 10 seconds – when it is injected into the bloodstream. The drug has been claiming lives for a century, but its use has been surging, and its recent victims include the famed actor Philip Seymour Hoffman.
When sold on the street, heroin is often diluted in a process known as cutting. Cutting agents include sugar, cornstarch or powdered milk, federal drug enforcement officials report, but can also include other drugs such as the powerful prescription painkiller fentanyl. A recent influx of fentanyl-cut heroin has resulted in the police across the state – and nation – reporting an increase in heroin overdoses.
Beginning late last year, heroin laced with fentanyl was sold in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Maryland and led to more than 50 deaths in those states. Fentanyl, which is far more potent than heroin, is sometimes packaged and sold as heroin, a practice that resulted in three deaths in Vermont in January, state officials there reported.
Lewandoski said toxicology reports are pending regarding the heroin that caused the two overdoses in Belmont.
Some heroin users often describe feeling freedom from depression and anxiety. They sometimes report a sense of safety and warmth.
The reality of heroin, however, is what two Belmont police officers saw when they entered Woodbury’s bedroom about 10 p.m. Feb. 4. Chamberlain was lying on his back on the floor, his face purple, his breathing foundering, said Belmont police Cpl. Gary Boisvert. Chamberlain was still conscious, but not communicative, he said.
Officer Kristopher Kloetz checked Chamberlain’s pulse. At first, he found a struggling beat, but moments later it weakened, and stopped. Chamberlain’s mother said Friday that he had battled drug addiction for years; he finally lost his private war.
The Laconia police have tried to fight a more public war on heroin in the last year with drug raids and lock-ups and announcements that heroin has hit the city in a devastating way. The Laconia police said Saturday that they suspect an early-morning death last Tuesday was the result of a heroin overdose. Capt. Matt Canfield said the victim was a 30-year-old man from Massachusetts.
That death occurred on Union Avenue, just two blocks from the home of Chamberlain’s mother, Karen Houle, who still lives in the house on Clinton Street in which she raised her three sons. Houle and her husband, David, said they have lived in Laconia all their lives, and the problems with drugs in the city were never as bad as they are now.
When Houle learned of her son’s overdose, she said she was overwhelmed and confused.
“He promised me he was clean,” she said, standing in her kitchen looking at a collage of photos she’d prepared for her son’s wake the previous night.
“Michael was a great person,” Houle said. “Michael was a great kid. He had an infectious smile and he had this huge belly laugh. Everybody just loved him, but, yeah, this heroin is tough.”
On Valentine’s Day, Houle said, her former husband’s struggle with cancer came to an end. His death came just 10 days after that of their son.
(Daira Cline can be reached at 369-3306 or firstname.lastname@example.org)