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Boston’s opioid abuse epidemic

Published On: 09-10-2015 in Category: addiction, addiction treatment, recovery, treatment centers


Massachusetts is currently dealing with being amidst an opioid drug epidemic, reported the Boston Herald.

Such a substantial surge in opioid addiction has created a huge influx of drug addicts in the detox programs, so much so that they are nearing capacity and are at the brink of turning patients away, as reported by the Boston Globe. According to the report by the Office of Recovery Services, the detox programs in Boston are operating at over 97 percent capacity. Individuals who sought treatment in residential programs last year were reported to have gone through a wait averaging more than three weeks for a single availability.

Even though Boston has the highest concentration of treatment and recovery beds than any other part of the state, availability is limited due to half of these residential treatment beds being occupied by people living outside the city. There are 152 beds per 100,000 residents in the city whereas the next largest areas, Central Massachusetts and Cape Cod, have roughly 42 beds per 100,000 residents.

A recent rise in overdoses from heroin and other opioids has raised concern among residents alongside health experts and public leaders.

Opioids essentially refer to medication that helps alleviate pain. They do so by reducing the intensity of signals on their way to the brain and influence areas of the brain that control emotion, all the while diminishing the effects of a painful stimulus. Hydrocodone, Oxycodone, morphine and codeine are leading examples of opioid medications.

The report further shared statistical data from recent surveys indicating a substantial rise in opioid abuse. Around 11.3 percent of people aged 12 and older were noted to be dependent on or abused illicit drugs or alcohol within the previous year. The report depicted the highest rate of 11.6 percent in Western Massachusetts and the lowest rate of 9.4 percent in the Metrowest area. Furthermore, one in 10 of all emergency department visits at Boston hospitals were related to substance abuse.

Alcohol and heroin are observed to be the most popular substances in Boston. Hence, alongside the opioid medication epidemic, heroin abuse has also increased dramatically. The rate of unintentional heroin overdoses rose by 76 percent between 2010 and 2012, whereas heroin-related calls to Boston’s emergency medical service department rose by 25 percent within the year of 2013.

“Too many Bostonians are all too familiar with the destruction that substance abuse addiction causes in our city’s families and neighborhoods,” Boston Mayor Martin M. Walsh said in a statement. “We see addiction’s devastation in our homes, at our workplaces and on our streets.”

Walsh stated that addressing addiction in Boston is his top priority. Last year, he created the Office of Recovery Services and announced the start of the study that produced the report, which he believes to be a “vital roadmap,” for the new office. The office works to improve existing addiction and recovery services, creating a continuum of high-quality assistance for individuals battling addiction.

Even though the overall trends of drug use are declining in Massachusetts, significant variations cannot be ignored such as the shift from less deadly drugs like ecstasy, towards deadlier and more harmful drugs like heroin. Such variations can be highly responsible for an increase in overdose and related deaths. Despite prescription drugs remaining as an integral part of this crisis, the opioid epidemic is essentially being seen to emerge as a heroin epidemic.

The report predicts the problem of opioid abuse to worsen as the experts expect prescription drug abuse to continue to rise. Conclusively, the report urges a more cohesive and well-integrated network of all Boston treatment providers to unify their efforts in controlling overdose and related fatalities.

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