Despite recent public attention, including the Governor’s task force recommendations, a model program in Gloucester and the dissemination of the life –saving drug Narcan, deaths from Heroin and other opiates continue to increase in the Commonwealth.
Current estimates from the state Department of Public Health show an increase of 6% over last year’s death rate from opioid overdoses. Already, 684 people have lost their lives in 2015. The trend continues upward: 2014 saw an increase of 63% over 2012 and a 20% increase over 2013 figures.
Governor Baker continues his attempts to address the problem. In addition to the recommendations from his task force, he has also proposed legislation that would limit prescription of opioid painkillers to a 72 hour supply. This has raised the ire of the medical profession who feel this is potentially meddling in medical care. He is also proposing that medical professionals could hold drug addicts involuntarily for up to three days in a hospital, if they feel this would provide a more concerted approach to recovery. Data supports the Governor’s approach: in 2014, 4.4 million opioid prescriptions, including 240 million pills were written in the Commonwealth. The total population is only 6.7 million people, including children.
The three day hold might be an effective tool in the treatment of addicts. Too often, addicts leave a hospital and almost immediately relapse because they do not have sufficient supports in the community to continue working toward sobriety. The addictive process is sometimes too powerful to respond to a few hours in an emergency room.
The following is sample of statistics from some of the towns in the Commonwealth. The numbers are the deaths related to opiate overdoses that occurred in that town during that year:
2012 2013 2014
Peabody 3 12 11
Revere 11 15 22
Brockton 9 27 24
Everett 9 5 23
Haverhill 11 8 24
Lawrence 6 9 22
Lowell 8 24 31
Methuen 0 6 10
People have been dying from heroin overdoses for decades but recently it became apparent that these deaths are no longer confined to inner city communities. The chart above shows alarming increases in opiate overdose deaths in bedroom communities such as Peabody and Methuen. Deaths have occurred in other similar communities such as Marblehead and Arlington. This seems to have gained everyone’s attention. Let’s hope this increased attention results in changes in the laws, funding and services necessary to stop the loss of our citizens.