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Opioid Crisis in Massachusetts

Graphic showing drug overdose statistics in Massachusetts

The opioid crisis has taken a heavy toll on New England. According to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, one in every 25 persons in the state has an opioid use disorder (OUD). The Massachusetts DPH estimates that over 2,000 persons died in the Commonwealth from an opioid-related overdose in 2019, with early statistics indicating that the number of such deaths rose in 2020. As deaths from heroin and prescription opioids have declined, the fraction of these deaths caused by fentanyl has grown. Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid 50-100 times stronger than heroin, appears to be the major cause of overdose deaths.

Massachusetts has the highest opioid-related death rate in the United States, more than double the national average. After increasing among white people earlier in the decade and is now rising among Hispanic and black residents.

While the scope of the opioid crisis in Massachusetts is clear, determining the root cause is hard to pinpoint. Even as the economy improves and unemployment lowers in the Gateway Cities, Massachusetts’ opioid problem worsens. Even though Massachusetts currently has one of the lowest opioid prescription rates in the country, it remains an issue.

Doing nothing about this issue is not an option. The right combination of control and treatment is challenging to define. Still, the data reveal that postponing opioid legislation and leaving the state’s opioid issue uncontrolled for another year will undoubtedly accelerate the state’s death rates.

Top Opioid Drugs Causing Overdose Deaths in Massachusetts

In Massachusetts, the most commonly abused opioids that lead to overdose are synthetic fentanyl, cocaine, and heroin.

Drug overdose statistics in Massachusetts:

  • Fentanyl: Present in 92 percent of opioid-related deaths in the first half of 2021.
  • Cocaine: Present in 52 percent of opioid-related deaths in the first half of 2021.
  • Heroin: Present in nine percent of opioid-related deaths in the first half of 2021.
  • Benzodiazepines (benzos): Slowly declining opioid overdose mortality rate since 2018.
  • Other Opioids: The number of amphetamines and prescription opioids in overdose-related deaths remained the same in 2021.

Why Has the Crisis Hit Massachusetts Harder Than Other States?

Although the opioid epidemic continues to take lives around the country, the situation is especially difficult in Massachusetts. In the United States, opioids were responsible for approximately 50,000 overdose deaths in 2018. That implies that opioid-related deaths have more than quintupled in only 20 years. Why is Massachusetts continuing to outperform the national average? Some key factors may explain why this epidemic is spreading quicker in Massachusetts than in most other states.

The Commonness of Illicit Fentanyl

Fentanyl is a prescription opioid that is 100 times more potent than morphine. Fentanyl has been a popular street drug in recent years, putting users in significant danger of overdose due to its potency. While fentanyl usage has surged across the country, it is prevalent in Massachusetts, and other New England states, where it accounts for the bulk of opioid-related deaths.

Prescription Opioid Use

Despite having one of the country’s highest rates of opioid-related deaths, Massachusetts has one of the lowest opioid prescribing rates. However, this does not rule out the possibility that prescribed opioids had a part in the state’s present opioid problem. It is thought that unusually high prescription rates in the early 2000s primed the populace. At-risk individuals may have turned to illegal heroin or fentanyl to fulfill their cravings after legal supplies of opioid prescriptions were cut off.

Steps to Address the Opioid Overdose Crisis in Massachusetts

The state government’s top public health and advocacy priority should be to address the opioid overdose issue. Opioid addiction, also known as severe substance use disorder, is a relapsing, chronic brain condition. Through education, advocacy, and legislative initiatives, the state government must be at the forefront of tackling the devastating impacts of this disease.

The following steps can prove to be most effective in adequately addressing the opioid crisis in the state:

  • Expansion of substance-use treatment services throughout the state
  • The implementation of accessible jail diversion programs statewide for individuals with substance use disorders (SUDs)
  • The abolition of prior authorization and other utilization management hurdles to evidence-based non-opioid pharmacologic and non-pharmacologic pain management options
  • Expansion of government funding to substance use disorder treatment programs to expand capacity
  • Providing easy access to a comprehensive range of evidenced-based treatment services, including medication-assisted treatments (MAT)
  • Offering affordable access to naloxone for all people in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts
  • Increasing the education of physicians and physicians-in-training about chronic pain management, principles for safe opioid prescribing, prevention of SUD, identification of SUD, treatment of SUD, and referring patients to appropriate treatment options.
  • Studying the efficacy of supervised injection facilities
  • Reducing the cost of naloxone auto-injectors, including generic naloxone

Opioid Misuse Resources

  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) national helpline: Individuals and family members dealing with substance abuse and mental health difficulties can call this hotline for free and confidential information.
  • Addiction Treatment Locator: Has an online tool for searching for Massachusetts treatment centers by kind of addiction and treatment provided. This tool also includes support resources for relatives and friends.
  • Foundations Recovery Network: Guides individuals in developing addiction treatment programs and locating a recovery facility.
  • GRASP (Grief Recovery After Substance Passing): Provides tools and coping strategies for people who have lost a loved one due to substance misuse or addiction.
  • Key Resources for Prevention, Intervention, and Treatment of Substance Abuse: It includes links to the information on prescription dropbox locations, substance abuse education materials, treatment locators, and recovery resources.
  • Learn to Cope: Includes resources for families affected by addiction. It has an online support forum as well as a list of local support meetings.
  • Lock Your Meds: This campaign gives advice on how to keep children from getting and experimenting with prescription drugs belonging to family members or friends.
  • Massachusetts 24/7 Helpline: Contains toll-free contact information for addiction treatment.
  • Massachusetts Pharmacies with Naloxone Standing Orders: This contains a list of pharmacists with standing orders to supply take-home naloxone rescue kits.
  • Naloxone Information Sheet: The Massachusetts DPH published this guide, which provides information on where to get naloxone and potentially avoid an opioid overdose.
  • Opioid Overdose Prevention & Reversal Information: This fact sheet contains information on naloxone as well as numerous contacts for obtaining naloxone.
  • Pharmacy Naloxone Rescue Kit Access Program: In the case of an opioid overdose, this booklet explains how to get naloxone from a pharmacist and how to administer it.
  • State Without StigMA: Provides a toll-free number to call for assistance and invites residents to sign a pledge to show their support for those suffering from addiction.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Does Massachusetts have an opioid problem?

More than 2,000 individuals died in Massachusetts from opioid overdoses in 2020, a record high. Due to the use of prescription opioids, fentanyl, and heroin, Massachusetts is experiencing exponential growth in opioid-related overdoses, opioid overdose deaths, and persons seeking substance use treatment. To confront the problem, the local government collaborates with a team of law enforcement, healthcare specialists, community leaders, and families who have personally experienced the crisis.

Is Narcan legal in Massachusetts?

Massachusetts state law allows obtaining naloxone with the intent to give it to another person. A pharmacy may supply naloxone based on a patient-specific prescription or a statewide standing order.

Is naloxone free in Massachusetts?

Those at risk of an opioid overdose can obtain naloxone for free through most naloxone distribution programs, including any Overdose Education and Naloxone Distribution (OEND) program. Alternatively, anybody in Massachusetts can get naloxone from a pharmacy using insurance or cash.

Is over-the-counter (OTC) naloxone available in MA?

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has yet to approve an over-the-counter version of naloxone. As a result, OTC naloxone is unavailable in Massachusetts or any other state. OTC drugs are available without a prescription or on standing order. MA considers any medication that requires a prescription to be a Schedule VI controlled substance, even if it is not a federally banned substance (CII-V).

Break the Addiction Cycle with The Haven Detox

Opioid addiction is a chronic condition that lasts a lifetime. Addiction, like diabetes or heart disease, needs successful medical therapy and lifestyle changes. To avoid cravings and maintain recovery from opioid addiction, treatment may also require medication.

The Haven Detox is one of New England’s most famous treatment centers for patients addicted to opioids, offering medication-assisted therapy. To suit the client’s specific needs, our healthcare provider team uses several evidence-based treatment models. We provide a broad spectrum of treatment services, including detox, residential treatment, dual diagnosis, therapies, and more.

If you or someone you care about is battling opioid addiction, please call our medical staff at (844) 933-4145 to speak with an addiction treatment professional. See how we can assist you on the road to recovery.