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Illicit Drugs, Not Prescriptions, Responsible for Recent Massachusetts Overdoses

A study released by the Department of Public Health earlier this month shows that recent deaths in the Massachusetts area can be attributed to illicit drugs like heroin and fentanyl, rather than opioid prescriptions. This study works to fuel the theory that because doctors are decreasing the number of prescriptions they hand out after their patients have already become addicted to opioids, their patients are turning to the streets to manage their chronic conditions, and so an epidemic has been born.

The study showed that opioid-related deaths in particular increased 350 percent from what they were between 2013 and 2014, which was at about 2,000. In Brockton, MA alone, in the year 2000, there were 0.1 to 5 opioid-related deaths per 10,000 residents. In the 2013-2014 period that this study measured, that number jumped up to over 50 deaths per the same number of residents. And only 8.3 percent of those MA residents who died from opioids had a prescription for them, while the other 85 percent had purchased heroin or fentanyl illegally.

Interestingly, toxicology screens proved that benzodiazepines were also found in half of those who suffered an opioid overdose, while 30 percent coupled the opioids with cocaine. As noted in the study, taking the opioids and the benzodiazepines together unsurprisingly causes the central nervous system to depress at an even faster rate than it would if the user had only consumed one of the drugs and not both.

Something else interesting: the study also reported that those who have recently been released from prison are over 50 times more likely to die from an opioid-related overdose than the is general public from any other cause of death. And the 25 percent of Massachusetts inmates who received drug treatment while incarcerated did not show a noteworthy reduction in their risk of succumbing to a fatal overdose, despite receiving treatment for drug abuse. The first month after an inmate is released is the most critical, with fatality rates being between two and six times higher for opioid-related overdoses and other causes of death.

In 2015, there were over 1,500 confirmed overdoses in Massachusetts, which rises to over 1,650 cases when unconfirmed deaths are factored in. So far, from January to June of 2016, there have been nearly 1,000 deaths related to overdoses, as per the state’s records.

Massachusetts residents have come out to mourn the residents they have lost to drug-related deaths. In East Bridgewater, over 1,500 purple flags were planted in the Town Common in memory of those who had passed away from heroin or opioid overdoses in the last year alone. Brockton hosted their annual Overdose Vigil back in August. Candles were lit in memory of those who were lost, and a video tribute was played in their honor. And the town of Easton has erected two memorials to mourn the residents who have been lost as a result of the opioid epidemic.