Study Offers Solution to Drug Overdose Deaths

Massachusetts has a scary-high number of drug overdose deaths per year, and officials are hoping education is the key to stopping it.

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A new study by Boston Medical Center says that overdose education and naloxone distribution (OEND) could drastically decrease the number of deaths that result from overdosing on opioid drugs like heroin, hydrocodone, oxycodone, codeine, morphine, and fentanyl. This news is especially important for Massachusetts given that since 2005, there have been more opioid drug-related deaths in our state each year than motor vehicle deaths—a shocking statistic, and one that needs to be addressed.

The results of this study, co-led by researchers from Boston Medical Center and Boston University School of Medicine and Public Health in conjunction with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, shows that OEND could be the most effective strategy for reducing opioid overdose deaths in the Commonwealth. The report says that the program uses a two-pronged approach, first educating at-risk people and those close to them about how to “prevent, recognize, and respond” to a potential overdose and then giving them naloxone, a substance that has been proven to reverse an opioid overdose.

The report explains that from 2006 to 2009 researchers administered OEND training to Massachusetts communities with high recorded levels of opioid overdose deaths. At the end of that time period, communities with low-intensity OEND training had 27 percent lower overdose death rates than those who did not receive OEND, while those who had the most intensive training saw death rates lower by 46 percent. The report quotes Dr. Alexander Walley about why the study’s results are so promising:

“Opioid overdose is a major public health problem for which we have few proven solutions. This study provides observational evidence that OEND can have a population-level dose effect in reducing overdose death rates, where the greater the implementation, the greater the impact,” said Alexander Walley, MD, MSc, an attending physician in general internal medicine at BMC and the study’s lead author. Walley is an assistant professor of medicine at BUSM and medical director for the MDPH’s Opioid Overdose Prevention Program. “Together with a recent study, which demonstrated that OEND is highly cost effective, it appears that OEND is a promising, scalable and affordable tool to save lives from opioid overdose.”

Although, ideally, we would solve this problem by curtailing the use of opioid drugs in the first place, it’s promising to know that education seems to be a viable way of cutting back on highly preventable deaths. Hey, maybe your elementary school D.A.R.E. teacher was on to something.