Heroin In Easton

A Nasty Drug And An Epidemic Of Use

In his very smart book, The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell discusses and analyzes how certain events and circumstances can build on each other, and how things can take off and become a rage and a movement. 

Some of the rages and movements Gladwell writes about are positive – like the dramatic drop in crime in New York City in the mid-1990s.  Others though are very dark and destructive – like the one that he recounted in this portion of an interview that can be found on his website (www.gladwell.com): 

… the very strange epidemic of teenage suicides in the South Pacific islands of Micronesia.  In the 1970’s and 1980’s, Micronesia had teen suicide rates ten times higher than anywhere else in the world. Teenagers were literally being infected with the suicide bug, and one after another they were killing themselves in exactly the same way under exactly the same circumstances. We like to use words like contagiousness and infectiousness just to apply to the medical realm. But I assure you that after you read about what happened in Micronesia you'll be convinced that behavior can be transmitted from one person to another as easily as the flu or the measles can.

Yes, behavior can become a tipping point; some of the most soul and body destroying behaviors can become a tipping point. 

Use of the vile substance heroin can become a tipping point. 

Heroin has spread throughout the South Shore, and it has made its residence in Easton.  I have seen closely the destruction that this derivative of morphine caused a wonderful family in Easton – one of many families in town the drug terribly wounded and injured.

Heroin is cheap (a bag costs less than a six-pack of beer), readily available – and it has been used by young people across the socio-economic spectrum in Easton. 

Heroin has been in the suburbs – and in Easton – for a while.

As National Public Radio reported in 2004,  “In the 1970s, the average heroin user was 28 to 30 years old and an urban dweller. Today, the average addict is a white, middle-class teenager.”

Teenagers are shooting it in their veins, smoking it, snorting it.

People who live in our community sell it – and people come here to sell it. 

Heroin is nasty beyond nasty; it gets a grip on kids, and they are ensnared; their systems are hijacked and they are increasingly hungry for the drug. 

They will steal and commit other crimes to acquire it.

Sometimes you have to wonder if we really appreciate just how terrible is this drug, and other chemicals associated with it.

A particularly disturbing drug case is that of Easton resident, Kevin D. Burtsell, who was arrested in 2007 for possessing with intent to distribute the powerful pain medication OxyContin – a gateway drug to heroin (heroin costs far less than OxyContin, and it satiates the same need that OxyContin does).  said that starting for about seven years prior to his arrest, including a stretch when he was an Easton Pop Warner Football coach, Burtsell was selling drugs to kids, many who were on his football team.

Amazingly, following conviction in 2008 in Taunton District Court on the charges, Judge Francis Marini only ordered Burtsell, 48, to serve 24 months of probation.  Burtsell didn’t receive a minute of jail time.   

This light sentence, maddened Easton Police detective, Michael Fox, who along with fellow EPD detective, John Lynn, were in the courtroom to hear the sentence. 

“It’s unbelievable,” Officer Fox said in an interview in the Enterprise.  “The guy destroyed countless lives in Easton, and he gets two years of probation.”

When I was helping Eddie MacKenzie write his memoir, Street Soldier: My Life as an Enforcer for Whitey Bulger and the Boston Irish Mob, I necessarily became familiar with and met face to face with people who were part of Whitey Bulger’s crime syndicate. 

There is a popular myth of Whitey Bulger as gentleman gangster, who did a lot of bad things but also took care of widows, gave to the Church, protected women … and kept drugs out of South Boston. 

Please.  Whitey Bulger headed up a highly profitable cocaine and pot distribution enterprise (Eddie MacKenzie was a soldier in this enterprise).  Bulger was also a serial killer and –as best I can determine – a pedophile. 

But, yes, Whitey did do a good job of keeping heroin and angel dust out of Southie – but not out of any altruistic bent.  He kept those drugs out of his neighborhood because once they got in and took hold of a population then there was no controlling that population. 

Heroin destroys all normalcy and social order.   Poisoned and in the grip of heroin, a death threat directed at you by Whitey Bulger meant next to nothing. Heroin invited and built a lawless and Wild West mentality. 

Whitey Bulger needed to keep order.

After Whitey Bulger went on the run in 1995 (he remains a fugitive and on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted List), heroin began to creep into South Boston. 

Heroin soon supported and fueled  an epidemic – perhaps even a tipping point – of suicides in South Boston.  In the late 1990s, as heroin use increased in South Boston, so did suicides and attempted suicides. 

Talk to anyone who lived in South Boston during this period, and they will tell you that heroin was the primary cause of this rage of self destruction.

Heroin induces suicide and dangerous behavior. 

From what I hear, Easton resident, David Semenza Jr., was not a bad kid.  A little wild, perhaps.  But no devil.  He had his trouble with drugs – but his family said he had been clean and sober for 30 months. 

But then David Semenza started in with heroin – and four years ago he robbed a bank in Mansfield.  Within minutes of the robbery, the car in which Smenza, 20, was a passenger was pulled over by Mansield Police, and he was shot and killed when police opened fire after they said they saw Smenza “reaching for something.” 

No weapon was found in the car, but robbing a bank is deadly enough – whether or not you gave police a reason to believe you were reaching for a weapon.

I don’t have all the solutions to this problem.  Easton has a top-notch police force, and it is aggressive in fighting heroin sales and use.  We have educators who care.  We have many concerned citizens who seek to combat the prevalence of heroin here.

But I do know increased awareness, vigilance, and education are all fundamental to beating heroin, and stopping its use and spread. 

Awareness, vigilance, and education are how the heroin tipping point in Easton will be disrupted and dismantled. 


Chris April 15, 2011 at 03:25 PM
Well said Ross. Glad to see someone finally call out Burtsell for all the damage he has caused.


More »
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Note Article
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.What's on your mind?What's on your mind?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something