The State of Massachusetts is experiencing dramatic levels of opioid abuse and their Governor, Deval Patrick, is sharply focused on addressing the problem. A compelling Boston Globe article has highlighted the growing problem with heroin and other opiates across the state noting that 185 people died of heron overdose between November 2013 and February 2014.
Also mentioned in the article was the state’s plan to increase funding for drug treatment by $20 million and to prohibit the sale of Zohydro, a highly potent prescription painkiller that has drawn much attention and criticism due to its ability to potentially worsen the opioid epidemic in America.
Governor Patrick has declared the opioid abuse problem a public health emergency and is taking active measures to increase the availability of naloxone to Massachusetts public workers so that they can intervene to save the lives of those experiencing an opiate overdose. Naloxone is a powerful opioid antagonist that reverses the effects of opioid overdose within minutes. Numerous overdose victims have been saved in recent years as a result of medical personnel or bystanders having access to naloxone.
The state also intends to crack down on the over prescription of pain medication and will be requiring physicians and pharmacies to participate in the prescription monitoring program. Participation was previously only voluntary, but will now be mandatory. Prescription monitoring reduces the prevalence of “doctor shopping” and also the diversion of prescription medications to the street where they are resold at a premium.
While naloxone can save lives by reversing the effects of opioid overdose, methadone also saves lives by removing the desperate daily struggle to avoid opioid withdrawal. This daily struggle often leads to premature death or long term incarceration. Suboxone (buprenorphine) provides the same medication-assisted support which allows those lost in addiction the ability to stabilize and move forward again. It is important to emphasize that medication-assisted treatment should always incorporate long term counseling and recovery-building since addiction is not just a physical dependency problem. The psychological component of addiction is what is addressed through counseling and therapy.