The number of fatal opioid overdoses has increased by 90 percent from 2000 to 2013, according to the latest data from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.
To combat this growing problem, Governor Deval Patrick today announced the recommendations from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and Opioid Task Force’s investigation into the problem over the past two months, as well as his plans to address their recommendations.
The Opioid Task Force is the Executive Committee of the Interagency Council on Substance Abuse and Prevention, assembled by Governor Patrick in March after he declared that opioid abuse and overdoses were a “public health emergency.” In Boston alone, there have been 631 accidental opioid overdose deaths between 2003 and 2012, according to Mass. DPH.
Although public health officials said that treatment systems in Massachusetts are some of the strongest in the country, the Opioid Task Force admits in their report that there is room for improvement, especially in light of the rising number of cases of opioid addiction.
The primary tasks were to make recommendations to strengthen prevention and treatment systems for opioid abuse, addiction, and overdoses, as well as to provide more people with access treatment and support services, according to the report’s executive summary.
“These actions will help enhance our network of treatment and recovery services to help communities and families struggling with addiction,” Governor Patrick said in remarks he delivered at Ostiguy Recovery High School in Boston, a supportive and sober school environment that helps youth in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction. It is one of four such schools in the state. “I hope this work results in more families talking openly about issues of addiction in order to spark the process of healing and recovery.”
Patrick’s announcement comes on the same day the courts are expected to make a decision on whether the governor’s ban on the prescription and sale of the painkiller Zohydro violates the constitution.
At the center of the problem lies a community with limited access to services and growing availability of their drug of choice. The DPH Bureau of Substance Abuse Services (the only state body of its kind nationally) reports that in the 2013 fiscal year, nearly half of all people receiving substance abuse treatment in public services said opioids were their primary or secondary drug of choice. Approximately 40 percent of thosepeople were between 13 and 29 years old.
Here’s the governor’s plan of action:
1. To lay out a regional plan: New England state governors will meet at Brandeis University on June 17 to discuss the regional epidemic.
2. To improve access to services: Mass. DPH will expand community and residential treatment services for the underserved populations in the state. This includes adolescents, young adults, and families with children. The state public health department will also develop a real-time inventory system that will help the state keep track of open treatment slots and enable residents to get quicker access to services.
3. To improve education and awareness: State public health officials will also launch a public health awareness campaign targeting youth, parents, and medical professionals to encourage conversation and inform the population further about addiction and recovery services.
4. To address gaps in coverage: A collaboration between DPH, the Division of Insurance, as well as the Health Policy Commission, will review insurance coverage for opiod addiction treatment and consult experts to determine which treatments and services are medically necessary.
5. To help addicts returning to the community after incarceration: Governor Patrick plans to expand support and treatment services for people returning to their lives outside of a correctional facility. This will involve funding to expand the use of the opioid addiction injectable fighter naltrexone (Vivitrol).
6. To curb unnecessary painkiller prescription practices: The governor will collaborate with the state medical boards to evaluate regulations that could greater ensure safe prescribing practice and limit misuse of prescription drugs.
7. To help those in recovery: Governor Patrick plans to expand peer support networks for addicts as well as direct additional resources and funding to Recover Support Centers throughout the state.
Here is the full report from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, which also includes estimated state budget figures necessary to enact the recommendations.
“Members of the Task Force have put forward strong recommendations, and I thank the Governor for committing to these actions that will help improve treatment services and fill any gaps in our recovery system,” said DPH Commissioner Cheryl Bartlett, RN.Chelsea Rice is a health producer for Boston.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @ChelseaRice.