Fishermen Cutting the Nets of Opioid Dependence

New England is known for the Patriots, fall foliage, and a variety of fresh seafood. Commercial fishing keeps seafood in abundant supply, but is physically taxing, with long days to weeks out to sea. When fishermen come in to port, they are exhausted and looking for some relaxation. While you enjoy your clam chowder or lobster, the fishermen have wads of cash in hand ready to “exhale.” The Massachusetts fishing fleet has a long history of drug use, and now boats are starting to carry Narcan, the drug that reverses overdoses.

Ambulances don’t go where fishermen do. In Gloucester, six fishermen have overdosed at the docks in the past three years. The Fishing Partnership Support Services is holding training sessions for crews on how to administer Narcan. About 40 captains attending the session left with two four-milligram doses, enough to revive an overdose victim. They hope to distribute Narcan to every commercial fishing vessel in the state.

Lobsterman Steve Holler knows first-hand about the need for pain medication after lifting 50 pound traps repeatedly for decades. His right elbow has been rebuilt, lost bone in the spine, and was relying on Percocet. “Fishing has crippled me”, he says and no longer takes the opioid. Holler says crew members will sometimes show up high, and sometimes they will overdose at sea or dock. Sometimes a whole crew may be on it due to the long hours, stress, and pain.

Drug-related safety hazards onboard can lead to catastrophic mistakes. Although fisherman appear rugged, those struggling with drug dependence do seek help. The rate of substance-abuse treatment for fishermen is three times that of “landlubbers.” The Gloucester Mayor wants Narcan carried on whale-watching, charter, and party boats that take 1,000 passengers each day out to sea. “Narcan should be in everybody’s first-aid kit,” says the Gloucester police chief.

MacQuarrie, Brian. “State’s fishing fleet confronts an opioid problem.” Metro. Boston Globe, 17 Apr 2017. Web. 18 Apr 2017.

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