Opioid Drug Helping Addicts in Mass.

But is it enough?

Last November, we reported that Massachusetts was No. 1!

Too bad it was for drug-related emergency rooms visits. According to a report by the Massachusetts Health Council, the Greater Boston area had the most drug-related emergency room visits in the nation in 2011. Boston was four times as high (pun not intended) as cities like New York City, Chicago, and Detroit. Four times! Even worse, the region also was four times above the national average among metropolitan regions for emergency room visits involving heroin. In addition, the South Shore saw high reports of overdoses, with one person dying from an overdose every eight days.

Those are some scary numbers. So back in June, the Patrick Adminsitration announced that $1.3 million in grant funding will be used to create the Massachusetts Opioid Abuse Prevention Collaborative Program (MOAPC), what they called “a groundbreaking initiative which will work to reduce opioid abuse and misuse across the state.”

Necessary for sure, but how did it work? The grants were set up to support innovative partnerships among 71 municipalities across the state. The contracts began in July, and have been used to implement policy and changes at the local level to prevent the abuse of opioids and reduce the number of hospitalizations and deaths associated with opioid poisonings.

On Monday, the Secretary of Health and Human Services John Polanowicz announced that the Patrick Administration’s Overdose Education and Naloxone Distribution Program has reported its 2,000th overdose reversal in six years of operation. In a statement, Polanowicz says:

“Massachusetts is a national leader in combating substance abuse and preventing overdoses, thanks to innovative programs like this one,” said Secretary Polanowicz. “Not only are we saving lives across the Commonwealth, we are also providing resources to help individuals access treatment and long-term supports to help them combat their addictions.”

Naloxone, also known as Narcan, blocks the effects of opioids such as heroin, oxycodone, hydrocodone, fentanyl, codeine and methadone. As part of the overdose prevention program, staff distribute naloxone nasal spray kits and provide training to opioid users and trusted people in their lives, such as family, friends and human services providers. The training helps individuals recognize and respond to an overdose by calling 9-1-1, performing rescue breathing and administering naloxone nasal spray. The programs also offer referrals to treatment and long-term supports.

The Department of Public Health (DPH) has operated the overdose prevention program since 2007, and the recent funding continues to help supplement this program. Training and naloxone nasal spray kits are available at sites located in 15 Massachusetts cities, all with high overdose rates: Boston, Brockton, Cambridge, Fall River, Holyoke, Hyannis, Lawrence, Lowell, Lynn, New Bedford, Northampton, Provincetown, Quincy, Springfield and Worcester.

“As we recognize 2,000 reversals, we must also acknowledge the significant need still present in the Commonwealth,” said DPH Commissioner Cheryl Bartlett, R.N.Opioid overdose continues to represent a considerable public health crisis, which is why the Department is committed to providing effective substance abuse prevention, treatment and recovery supports involving a broad range of stakeholders and approaches.”

While this is a step in the right direction, I can’t help but wonder how it got so bad here in the first place. Hopefully, with continued efforts, we will see more positive changes. But having numbers four times higher than cities like New York City and Detroit is unacceptable.

For more information on the OEND program, and other ways that DPH is working with communities across Massachusetts to reduce opioid overdoses, visit the Opioid Overdose Prevention website.

For a referral to treatment please go to www.helpline-online.com or call 800-327-5050.