The Opioid Epidemic in Massachusetts

By Nicole Strefling (Correspondent)

Drug overdose death rates have risen to epidemic rates and are currently the leading cause of death for Americans under the age of 50. More than 59,000 Americans died of drug overdoses in 2016 — more than the total number who died in the entirety of the Vietnam War.

In the last 16 years more than 183,000 Americans have died from drug overdoses — many resulting from abuse of prescription drugs. Last year alone in Massachusetts more than 2,000 people died from opioid overdoses.

Fentanyl is the most problematic opioid because it is much cheaper and easier to get than heroin. 74% of the overdoses in Massachusetts in 2016 were fentanyl-related.

After multiple overdoses at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, security guards such as Ryan Curran began carrying naloxone to treat narcotic overdoses in an emergency situation. Curran carries one on him everyday and said, “We don’t want to promote, obviously, people coming here and using it, but if it’s going to happen, then we’d like to be prepared.” Massachusetts General Hospital started training security guards after a realization that the hospital’s bathrooms have become homes for opioid users and overdose patients.

Dr. Alex Walley, the director of the Addiction Medicine Fellowship Program at Boston Medical Center said, “It’s against federal and state law to provide a space where people can use [illegal drugs] knowingly” This being said, Massachusetts General Hospital could be blamed for cautiously creating a space where people are abusing drugs.

Chuck Rosenberg, the administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration, said that doctors should have conversation with their patients on how to handle opioids and how to dispose of them correctly.  “We talk to pharmacists. We talk to manufacturers about how dangerous this stuff can be. But this stuff is legal,” said Rosenberg.

SHS resource officer, Mike Hocking, told Wicked Local Sharon said that doctors bear some of the blame since they prescribe painkillers so easily.

Dr. Paul Jeffrey, director of pharmacy at MassHealth, says, “It will take coordinated and sustained efforts by all stakeholders, state and federal government, law enforcement, health care providers and programs, social programs, schools, and families to help get the problem under control.”

The Gavin Foundation, an organization that promotes substance abuse treatment and awareness, has many programs such as volunteer work, alumni groups, and even sober sports leagues to provide that sense of community that helps so many recover.

John McGahan, the president and CEO of the Gavin foundation says that we need to put resources into treatment, job training and housing so that “once folks return to the community they do not return to a life of crime and substance use.”

Michael Botticelli, a former alcoholic who has been in recovery for over 20 years, who was appointed the director of the Office of National Drug Policy by President Obama and has also worked in the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, says in his TED talk “Addiction is a Disease. We Should Treat it Like One,” that we need to start treating people with addiction with more compassion.  “Nearly every family in America is affected by addiction, yet, unfortunately, too often, it’s not talked about openly and honestly. It’s whispered about. It’s met with derision and scorn, ” he said.

McGahan also says that police, politicians and persons in recovery need to share their experiences about how substance misuse has affected their family and community. “Creating a community that is open about substance abuse may be a start to creating a community with less substance abuse,” he said.

“Educational programs to teach youth about the hazards of drug use are but one part of the overall strategy to slow and stop the epidemic.” said Jeffrey who says that  early education is also a strategy to stopping the opioid epidemic from spreading.

“It’s important to have schools, church groups and sports teams to begin the education process is so the adults will get honest with themselves,” McGahan said.

Sharon has created the Sharon Substance Prevention and Resource Coalition as of March 2016, a committee comprised of parents, fire and police departments, and community members that work together to reduce the demand and use of drugs in the town. A survey was conducted by the Sharon Prevention and Resource Coalition shows that the main reasons for substance abuse in Sharon is stress, boredom, easy access, and lots of money.

The opioid epidemic, is very real, and everyone needs to work together to stop this epidemic from getting any worse.

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