Massachusetts has been battling an opioid epidemic for a long time. They just released new numbers that the state has had over 185 opioid overdose deaths since November 2013. The overdose numbers do not include deaths from Boston, Worcester and Springfield. The highest rate of overdoses are located in the state's southeastern counties. 34 Fatal overdoses in Bristol, 20 in Plymouth and 15 in Norfolk. Middlesex, the state's largest county, totaled 30 deaths and Essex had 22.
State health officials announced that 642 people died from opiate overdoses in 2011, a rise from 555 in 2010. The statistics, compiled by state police homicide investigators, omitted Boston, Worcester and Springfield because police in those cities conduct their own death investigations. “The numbers tell me we have a very big problem with opiates,” said Hilary Jacobs, director of the Department of Public Health’s bureau of substance-abuse services...They just confirm what we know: Opiate use is really at epidemic proportions in our communities.”
These numbers seem very high for such a short amount of time. The numbers would have been a lot higher, but thanks to Naloxone used by first responders, the deaths have not been nearly as high. State health officials said in September the nasal spray Naloxone had been used to reverse 2,000 overdoses during the past six years. Since that time, it has saved nearly 600 more lives. If Naloxone was not available to first responders the death rate would be have been much higher.
Efforts to obtain the overdose rates in Boston, Springfield and Worcestor were unsuccessful. Due to the population and the fact that Boston's most recent report from 2010 estimated that 197 people died from substance abuse. The report did not isolate opioids or heroin deaths.
The high overdose death rates are due to many factors. Much of the heroin on the streets is at it's purest and most powerful levels ever. That along with the low cost of heroin (compared to painkillers), and how readily available heroin is has caused many overdoses. The heroin along the east coast has attributed to many overdoses because of the cutting agents mixed in. In the fall, a high rate of overdoses were caused by heroin being cut with Fentanyl, an opioid pain medication that is 80 times the strength of morphine. Since many painkiller addicts can not afford their prescription pain pills any longer, they have switched to heroin which has increased the drug abuse death rate.
The positive part of this story is how outstanding Naloxone works to save lives. There is debate on whether this drug is a good use of tax payers money. I feel this medication needs to be carried by first responders and to be prescribed to family or friends of someone who is a known opioid addict. The prescription drug reverses opioid overdoses almost immediately and as you have seen has saved over 600 lives in Massachusetts alone. The second chance at life will not get everyone to change their lifestyle to get clean, but if it opens one person's eyes to live a healthy life free of opiates, it is a success in my book.