The Latest on the Opioid Crisis in Massachusetts

Even though prescription opioids are designed to relieve pain, the misuse of these prescription drugs has led to a national crisis. Massachusetts has been especially affected by the opioid epidemic. In 2015, more than 1,000 of the state’s residents died from opioid-related causes. To help combat the state’s opioid crisis, Governor Charlie Baker, along with the state’s Department of Public Health and the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, released the Action Plan to Address the Opioid Epidemic in the Commonwealth.

Although the action plan did initially help curtail the opioid crisis in Massachusetts, the COVID-19 pandemic has since worsened the state’s situation. In addition to having one of the highest opioid-involved overdose death rates in the country, Massachusetts faces a higher risk from opioids than many other states, according to researchers. Here’s what you need to know about opioids, what’s happening in Massachusetts, and what we’re doing to help.

Opioids: What Are They And Why Are They So Dangerous?

Opioids are a group of drugs derived from the opium poppy plant. Opioids can take the form of illicit street drugs or FDA-approved medications, but the majority of opioids are prescribed by doctors to relieve acute and chronic pain. Generally, doctors use opioids to help ease pain after surgery, a traumatic sports injury, or a severe accident. Sometimes, doctors prescribe opioids to help individuals manage cancer-related pain. Regardless of why they’re prescribed, all prescription opioids relieve pain the same way.

Opioids work by attaching themselves to proteins in the brain called opioid receptors. Opioids then begin to block pain signals in the brain, diminishing the perception of pain throughout the body. Individuals experience this reduced perception of pain as pain relief. In addition to blocking pain signals, opioids stimulate the production and release of excessive amounts of dopamine in the brain, creating a temporary feeling of pleasure in the body. Even though they are illegal, opioid street drugs like heroin work the same way.

Even though opioids are mostly safe when taken as prescribed, the drugs do have a high risk of abuse. As such, taking higher doses of opioids or consuming the medication more frequently than prescribed can lead to misuse, abuse, addiction, and in some cases, overdose.

The Current Opioid Situation In Massachusetts

Even though the opioid epidemic continues to claim lives throughout the United States, the crisis has especially affected Massachusetts. The state’s opioid-related death rate is more than twice the national average. Let’s look at some of the most recent updates on the opioid crisis in Massachusetts.

  • Opioid Overdose Deaths Have Risen Amid The COVID-19 Pandemic. Even though opioid drug deaths in Massachusetts dropped nearly 5 percent between 2016 and 2018, the state’s opioid fatalities have started to rise again during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a report from the state’s Department of Public Health (DPH), overdose-related deaths in Massachusetts increased in 2020. During the first nine months of the year, overdose deaths rose by 2 percent. As the year progressed, opioid overdose deaths in Massachusetts hit a new peak. Overall, new data from the DPH showed a 5 percent increase in 2020, with 102 more people dying from opioids in 2020 than the previous year. In fact, more than 80 percent of all the state’s drug-related deaths in 2020 were opioid-related.
  • Fentanyl Has Become The Main Cause Of Opioid-Related Overdose Deaths in Massachusetts. Based on data provided in a 2020 toxicology report, fentanyl was present in 92 percent of the state’s overdose deaths. Fentanyl is a prescription opioid that can be up to 100 times stronger than morphine. Although fentanyl has become a popular street drug all throughout the United States, the drug has become increasingly prevalent in Massachusetts because a major Northeast drug trafficking route runs right through the state.
  • Massachusetts’ Black and Hispanic Populations Have Higher Opioid-Related Death Rates Than The National Average For All Races. Last year, amid the coronavirus pandemic, opioid-related overdose deaths among Black men in Massachusetts increased by nearly 70 percent. While the number of opioid overdose deaths among whites in Massachusetts dropped slightly, fatal opioid overdoses among Black and Hispanic men and women increased significantly. In fact, Black and Hispanic people in Massachusetts have higher rates of opioid-related deaths than the national average for all races, which is 13.3 deaths per 100,000 people. About 4 years ago, in Massachusetts, approximately 28.8 Hispanics and 16.1 Blacks overdosed on opioids, and the numbers have continued to rise since then. Last year, the number of opioid overdose deaths among non-Hispanic Black men increased by 69 percent, from 32.6 to 55.1 per 100,000 people, which is the highest increase of any ethnic or racial group in 2020.

Why Has Massachusetts Remained The Epicenter of the Opioid Crisis?

Despite numerous policy changes and initiatives, Massachusetts continues to have one of the highest opioid-related death rates in the country. Even though researchers don’t fully understand the state’s opioid vulnerability, they have uncovered a few reasons why the state’s opioid crisis seems to be worsening.

  • A large presence of illicit fentanyl. In 2016, Massachusetts had the third-highest fentanyl related-death rate in the country. In 2017, Massachusetts had the second-highest number of fentanyl-related law enforcement reports, only behind Ohio. Additionally, Massachusetts is located along key drug trafficking routes. All of this increases the amount of fentanyl available in the state. Unfortunately, users also combine fentanyl with other drugs, making them more potent, increasing the number of overdose deaths statewide.
  • Economic hardship in the New England area. Thanks to a decline in manufacturing and manual labor in the region, the New England economy has suffered greatly. This economic hardship had led to increased poverty, disability, and unemployment. Many experts believe these hardships continue to contribute to the state’s opioid crisis.
  • Heroin usage. Even though heroin overdoses in the state have decreased by nearly 5 percent, this illicit drug is the second most common underlying cause of opioid-related deaths in the state. The drug trafficking routes located throughout the state have made heroin more accessible and the economic challenges of the region may compel people to use the drug as a temporary way to escape everyday challenges.

Empowering People To Take Charge Of Their Recovery

Here at Meta Addiction Treatment, we’re proud to call Massachusetts home. That’s why we work hard to help curb the state’s opioid crisis. Our outpatient treatment programs can help you overcome addiction challenges while maintaining your day-to-day routines. Opioids don’t have to continue to control your life.

Our opioid addiction program can help you:

  • Break the cycle of addiction
  • Improve your quality of life
  • Overcome painful underlying issues
  • Build healthy habits and behavior patterns
  • Boost your self-esteem and self-efficacy
  • Connect with healthy, like-minded individuals
  • Achieve and maintain long-term sobriety

Let us help you change your life. Contact us today to speak with one of our recovery experts and learn more.

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