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  • Since 1999, opioid drugs have taken the lives of over half a million Americans. And though great strides have been made to curb opioid misuse nationally, the social isolation, economic disruption, and despair brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic threatens to reverse this progress.

    The opioid epidemic has impacted the state of Massachusetts with particular severity. And though there is cause for optimism, much work remains before the American opioid epidemic ceases to be a pressing public health concern.

    Origins Of The Opioid Epidemic

    In 1995 Purdue Pharma, a pharmaceutical company based in Stamford, Connecticut, launched OxyContin, a prescription pain medication that delivered the opioid drug oxycodone in a long-lasting, controlled-release pill.

    This product launch coincided with a major movement in American medicine that sought to comprehensively treat and control chronic pain. OxyContin was marketed as a safe, effective, and affordable solution for America’s pain epidemic, and prescriptions skyrocketed.

    Unfortunately, the drug’s safety was overstated and its time-delay technology could be easily circumvented by chewing or grinding up the pills, delivering the full dose of the opioid at once with heroin-like effects.

    Large quantities of OxyContin were quickly diverted from prescribers to the black market and opioid overdoses and related death rates climbed precipitously through the 2000s. 

    This was followed by increasing use of heroin (and an increased spread of the HIV/AIDs virus from shared needles) as well as dangerous synthetic opioids like fentanyl in the first and second half of the 2010s, respectively.

    The Opioid Epidemic In Massachusetts

    From 2000 to 2012, the age adjusted opioid death rate in Massachusetts hovered only slightly above national average. 

    However, after 2012 this figure rose dramatically, more than doubling the national average by 2016. By 2018, the rate was 29.7 deaths per 100,000 residents in Massachusetts, compared with 13.3 per 100,000 in the United States as a whole. 

    This concerning rise in opioid-related fatalities is a result of the increasing prevalence of heroin in the United States, and (to an even greater degree) the increased prevalence of fentanyl and other powerful synthetic opioids in New England in particular.

    Addressing The Crisis

    Fortunately, numerous efforts have been made to temper the Massachusetts opioid crisis, including:

    • establishment of a prescription drug monitoring program (PMP) to prevent doctor shopping
    • increased law enforcement and first responder use of the opioid drug overdose antidote naloxone (Narcan)
    • greatly limiting the use of prescription opioids (in 2018, Massachusetts clinicians wrote 35.3 opioid prescriptions for every 100 individuals, far less than the US average of 51.4)
    • limiting outpatient opioid prescriptions to seven day supplies to prevent over-prescription
    • expanding addiction treatment programs and use of medication-assisted treatments using buprenorphine, methadone, and naltrexone

    Covid-19 & The Massachusetts Opioid Epidemic

    As of this writing, the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on opioid misuse and opioid-related death rates in the United States and the state of Massachusetts is not fully understood. 

    However, signs and expectations point to the pandemic greatly exacerbating the full range of mental health issues and all forms of substance abuse. 

    Experts are concerned that efforts to combat the opioid crisis could be set back by years, with potentially fatal consequences.

    In response to this challenge and newly-rising opioid-related death rates, Gov. Charlie Baker approved measures in 2020 that included:

    • expanding telehealth services
    • reducing barriers to treatment
    • expanding naloxone distribution
    • receiving federal approval for treatment programs to provide take-home doses of medications for treatment of opioid use disorder

    Treating Opioid Use Disorder

    If you or a loved one struggles with substance use disorder (addiction) in New England or elsewhere in the United States, participation in a personalized addiction treatment program may make all the difference.

    With four Massachusetts-based locations, Ark Behavioral Health provides compassionate inpatient and outpatient treatment for heroin, fentanyl, and prescription opioid painkiller addiction. 

    Our evidence-based services include:

    To learn more about our treatment services, please contact us today.

    Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
    ©2024 Ark National Holdings, LLC. | All Rights Reserved.
    This page does not provide medical advice.

    Boston Indicators - Opioid Addiction Is a National Crisis. And It’s Twice as Bad in Massachusetts.
    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) - Understanding the Epidemic
    Commonwealth of Massachusetts Department of Public Health - Opioid-related overdose deaths rose slightly in the first nine months of 2020
    National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) - Massachusetts: Opioid-Involved Deaths and Related Harms
    Washington Times - Overdose deaths hit record high in coronavirus pandemic

    Medically Reviewed by
    Kimberly Langdon M.D.
    on March 9, 2021
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