Massachusetts Has the Country’s Highest Rate of Opioid-Related ER Visits

Our number is roughly 2.5 times higher than the national average.


Photo by Dana Guth

Massachusetts has far and away the country’s highest rate of opioid-related emergency room visits, according to a new brief from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

As of 2014, the report says, Massachusetts saw 441.6 opioid-related ER trips per 100,000 residents. Alone, that’s a staggering number; with context, even more so. That’s roughly 2.5 times the national average, and the next highest number, seen in Rhode Island, drops way down to 288.6.

According to the report, that number represents a roughly 75 percent increase in opioid-related emergency department visits between 2009 and 2014. Unfortunately, that number has likely swelled further since 2014, if state public health information is any indication. Either way, the astronomical increase is a sobering reminder of the fast and furious onset of the opioid epidemic, a public health crisis which in the Commonwealth claims 350 percent more lives today than it did 15 years ago.

The report also examines opioid-related inpatient stays across the country. Massachusetts saw 318.6 stays per 100,000 people in 2014, a bit less than Maryland’s nationwide high of 362.1, but about 37 percent more than it recorded between 2009 and 2014.

While Massachusetts is an unfortunate poster child for the epidemic, many states are grappling with its effects. Very few states achieved decreases in opioid-caused ER and inpatient visits, and national overdose and hospitalization rates are creeping ever upward. The problem is so glaring that in a recent substance abuse report, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy called it “a moral test for America.”

Massachusetts is rising to the challenge, with initiatives including the Faster Paths to Treatment program at Boston Medical Center and medical school curricula that address the problem. As the data shows, however, we’ve still got a long way to go.