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When you think of Cape Cod, opiate addiction might not be the first thing that crosses your mind. It doesn't seem possible that children coming of age playing on sun-drenched beaches could grow up to become heroin addicts, but the reality is many are.

The problem is literally one of life and death. According to the Massachusetts Department of Health, in 2007 there were 645 deaths statewide from opiate overdoses. The numbers are conservative, it says, because other reasons are often listed on death certificates. In 2006, 2.3 percent of all hospitalizations in the state were linked to opiate abuse.

Raymond Tamasi, executive director of Gosnold Treatment Center in Falmouth, says the Cape has seen a huge increase of opiate addiction - which includes prescription drugs such as Oxycontin - and heroin.

"Fifty percent of patients admitted to Gosnold for detox report a primary dependence on opiates. Twenty-nine percent on prescription opiates, 21 percent, heroin," he says. "Thirty percent of admissions to Gosnold for detox are patients under 24 years old, while statewide for those under 24 years old, the number is 20 percent, a big difference."

Tamasi says these numbers are reflected in what they are seeing at Gosnold in its patient base.

"In the last 10 years there has been a huge shift to opiate addiction," he says. "In 2000 it was about 12 percent, today it is 50 percent. That's a monumental change. Having said that, the most serious, medically dangerous and most widespread addiction is still to alcohol."

These numbers mean there are a lot of young adults in serious trouble here. And that is something that impacts all of us.

State Police Lt. Jack Mawn roughly estimates that approximately 95 percent of crime on the Cape has an illegal drug connection.

"The impact that we are seeing is the unfortunate addiction of literally countless members of our community, most of whom are in the 16-to-26-years-old demographic, and we will probably have to adjust the age parameters lower and higher," he says. "Not only is the chronic addiction of our citizens a major concern, but the accompanying crime committed to sustain and support addiction affects every citizen of the Cape."

Mawn says the State Police Cape Cod Drug Task Force deals with a few basic groups.

"The addict/user of illegal narcotics who by virtue of their addiction buys and possesses illegal narcotics, the addict who resorts to selling illegal narcotics to produce the income necessary to maintain their own habit, and the addict who resorts to other crime to produce income in order to purchase illegal narcotics and sustain their habit," he says. "And lastly, the predatory drug dealer who does not use illegal hard narcotics, but profits from the addiction and misery of others."