Massachusetts continues to show the way toward fewer opioid-related deaths, as a result of focused state policies and laws. In 2019’s first nine months, 1460 people died of an opioid overdose, a 6% decline in deaths from the same span in 2018. The decline occurred despite the increased presence of illegal fentanyl, per Dr. Monica Bharel, head of the state’s Department of Public Health.

In 2017, Massachusetts, with 1,913 deaths, was ranked among the ten states with the worst opioid-based overdose fatality rate. In that year, 70,237 Americans died that way. Since that time, programs and laws in Massachusetts have brought about a moderate decline in the rate of overdose deaths. “Today’s report affirms that our multi-pronged approach to the opioid epidemic is making a difference,” said Mass. Governor Charlie Baker. “Although we’ve made progress we must continue to focus our law-enforcement efforts on getting fentanyl off our streets and out of our neighborhoods.”

The opioid abuse epidemic arose in 2013-14, primarily from physicians’ widespread prescribing of opioids in connection with pain management. Massachusetts doctors subsequently revised their prescribing policies and the state launched public-education programs and enacted laws that required hospital emergency departments to refer opioid users to treatment from licensed facilities.

In the state as in the nation, the threat now comes primarily from illicit synthetic Fentanyl, sold by drug dealers and accounting for half of the OD deaths nationwide and for 93% of the OD incidents (for which there were toxicology screens) in Massachusetts in the first half of the year.

The epidemic continues to take thousands of American lives each month. Many states have not mobilized to fight this scourge, despite the model of states like Massachusetts and the availability of SAMHSA grants and other forms of federal funding.

Do you work with families or individuals with addictions? Is your state and its leaders aware of some of the effective anti-opioid measures that have been promoted by the Department of Health & Human Services (SAMHSA especially) and implemented in states like Massachusetts? Your advocacy could make a big difference.

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