Massachusetts has the highest rate of opioid-related emergency room visits out of 30 states that were surveyed for a recent US Department of Health and Human Services report. The finding highlights how the opioid epidemic continues to affect Bay State residents and other New Englanders.
In Massachusetts there were more than 450 emergency room visits for opioid-related reasons per 100,000 residents in 2014. The state’s spokesman for the state’s Health Policy Commission said that preliminary data shows that the rate of ER visits likely increased during 2015, along with the rate of opioid-related inpatient stays, according to The Boston Globe. The report showed that the rates of opioid-related emergency room visits were 71 percent higher in 2014 than they were in 2009.
The continuing rise of opioid-related medical emergencies and deaths underscores the needs for quality opioid treatment in Massachusetts.
People who are familiar with the opioid epidemic in Massachusetts said that the emergency room statistics represent progress while also highlighting the severity of the problem.
“The number of deaths [from opioids in Massachusetts] would have been much higher without the push to get people to get help,” said Traci Green, deputy director of the Injury Prevention Center at Boston Medical Center. Public awareness about overdose risk and the benefits of calling 911 during an overdose may have increased hospital visits, she said. At the same time, the prevalence of fentanyl in the state has increased the number of people overdosing.
“If anything, these data are just the tip of the fentanyl effects,” Green said. “Fentanyl is what is driving everything right now.”
Many times people are sent to hospital emergencies rooms in crisis when other treatment options are not available.
“Many people are told to go to the emergency room when they can’t find treatment somewhere else,” said Joanne Peterson, founder and executive director of Taunton-based Learn to Cope, a nonprofit support network for families of addicts.
In order to avoid emergency room visits, it’s essential that people who are addicted to heroin and other opioids access comprehensive opioid treatment. Treatment facilities that utilize insurance in Massachusetts are better able to address the needs of people detoxing from opioids, treating co-occurring disorders and seeking to achieve long-term sobriety.
“Hospitals are still overwhelmed with people waiting for help,” Peterson said. “We still have a lot of work to do. The good news is there’s more and more people in different sectors working on this.”
Nationally, the average rate for opioid-related emergency room visits was 225 per 100,000 residents, an increase of 65.5 percent between 2009 and 2014. In addition to Massachusetts, other New England states had high rates of emergency room visits. Rhode Island had the third-highest rate (about 298 visits) and Vermont was sixth (about 224 visits). Data for Maine and New Hampshire, which has one of the highest rates of heroin overdose in the country, were not included in the report.
Massachusetts has worked to address the opioid epidemic in the state. A new organization called RIZE Massachusetts is seeking to raise $50 million for treatment and prevention efforts. General Electric, Partners HealthCare, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts are all involved in the effort.
“This is a relentless foe,” Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker said at a RIZE Massachusetts event. “Relentless. If we aren’t willing to be relentless in response to what we’re up against, our chances for success will be significantly diminished.”