Overdose deaths increased 350% in Massachusetts over past 15 years

Photo Courtesy: CNN
Photo Courtesy: CNN

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – We are getting a better idea of just how serious the opioid epidemic is here in Massachusetts. The findings of a new study released by the Baker-Polito Administration are significant. This is the first time we have seen a collaborative set of data from the dozens of agencies working on the opioid crisis.

Opioid overdose deaths impact everyone in Massachusetts: Victims, family, friends, and taxpayers.

The data covers the years from 2013 to 2014. In that time, two thirds of cities and towns had deaths connected to opioids. Dr. Robert Roose, Vice President of Addiction and Recovery Services of Mercy Behavioral Healthcare, said, “There isn’t a community that has been spared.” It really is worse now than ever before: overdose deaths increased by 350 percent in the past 15 years.

Data showed use of medication-assisted treatment was effective in preventing deaths. People released from prison were 56 times more likely to die from an overdose than non-users. Dr. Roose said that’s because after not using for a while, people will revert back to the dosage they took before they were incarcerated, and their body can’t handle it. He added, “Those two pieces are very powerful pieces of information that can help us target resources towards those who might be at highest risk and what treatments are going to be most effective to reduce the risk of death.”

Prescription painkillers have largely been the focus in combating the opioid epidemic, but according to this study, 85 percent of overdose deaths were from illegal drugs. Liz Whynott of Tapestry Health said that’s because people will first get addicted to pills, then switch to more accessible, cheaper options, like heroin. In addition to its needle exchange program, Tapestry Health educates users on how to survive. Whynott said drug users should be part of the state’s conversation on how to save lives. “It’s really important to again focus on how to work with active drug users and people that aren’t ready that day to get into treatment and really look at how to prevent overdose deaths,” Whynott told 22News.

30 percent of those who died had used cocaine and benzodiazepines with heroin.  Of all the opioid-related deaths, about 25 percent were among young people, ages 18 to 24.

Working for a Better Tomorrow

“The findings of this study will help the Opiate Task Force figure out where the focus and money should be in combatting the crisis,” said Dr. Robert Roose, Vice President of Mercy Addiction and Recovery Services.


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