Drug overdoses across the United States continue to climb. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that over 50,000 Americans died from an overdose in 2015, a number that is largely driven by prescription and illegal opioid drugs like painkillers, heroin, and fentanyl. In the state of Massachusetts, drug overdose deaths rose more than 35 percent from 2014 to 2015, the CDC publishes, in one of the biggest jumps in the US.

Close to 2,000 people died in Massachusetts from an opioid overdose in 2016, the Boston Globe reports, as illicit fentanyl (a drug 50-100 times more potent than heroin) is increasingly more prevalent. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is prescribed to treat pain; however, it is being manufactured in clandestine laboratories and being used to “cut” heroin and other drugs. Its high level of potency makes the drug extremely dangerous and unpredictable. Using this drug in combination with other drugs makes it even more dangerous.

Drug Addiction Treatment in Boston

In 2012, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that drug overdoses reached an 11-year high in the city of Boston with heroin and cocaine topping the list of most commonly abused drugs.

Drug overdose deaths in Massachusetts were broken down by the Massachusetts Department of Health for 2013. They found the following:

  • Approximately 22 percent of fatal drug overdoses involved cocaine.
  • Many overdoses involved more than one drug.
  • Benzodiazepine drugs were found in 16 percent of overdose deaths.
  • Opioids accounted for 82 percent of all overdose fatalities.

In addition to their high overdose potential, fentanyl and opioid drugs in general are considered highly addictive. The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) estimates that over 2.5 million Americans suffered from opioid addiction involving either a prescription or illegal opioid drug in 2015. As the largest city in New England, the capital of Massachusetts, and one of the top 25 most populous cities in the US, Boston dedicates many resources to treating the disease of addiction.

Drug Use and Abuse within the City of Boston

0 percent of admitted individuals reported past-year heroin use in Boston MA

Heroin and cocaine reign supreme in the city of Boston. Within the city in 2014, nearly 17,000 people were admitted to a substance abuse treatment program. Over half of these individuals cited heroin as the primary drug of abuse, and over 60 percent of admitted individuals reported past-year heroin use. Nearly 30 percent reported past-year use of cocaine, close to 20 percent reported using marijuana, over 20 percent reported using “other” drugs (benzodiazepines, stimulants, PCP, methamphetamine, stimulants, tranquilizers, sedatives, hallucinogens, inhalants, club drugs, barbiturates, etc.), and over 10 percent reported using other opioids in the prior year, per the Massachusetts Department of Public Health Bureau of Substance Abuse Services (BSAS).

With the recent vote to legalize marijuana for recreational use, Boston residents may see an uptick in marijuana use as well, as the legislation allows for home growing, use, and possession of the drug. The Boston Globe reports that the sale of marijuana through recreational “pot shops” has been delayed until mid 2017, however. While it is legal to use recreational marijuana for adults aged 21 and older, it is not yet legal to purchase it for recreational purposes.

Types of Treatment Options

The Massachusetts Department of Health and Human Services (DPH) works to provide resources for drug abuse and addiction in the following four main areas:

A grant program providing financial support to communities and cities around the Commonwealth, including Boston, the Massachusetts Opioid Abuse Prevention Collaborative (MOAPC) funds local municipalities to help with prevention measures, educational outreach, community- and evidence-based programs, and other resources in an attempt to prevent opioid overdose and abuse. Massachusetts has a Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP) in place, requiring medical providers to register narcotic prescriptions online in an effort to establish potential high-risk individuals.

Types of Treatment Options

Treatment services for addiction are variable and dependent on the level of care required for each individual. Holistic practices that specialize in addiction treatment and relapse prevention, like acupuncture (placing needles in strategic points in the body), are sanctioned in the city of Boston. In general, holistic methods are considered adjunct treatment methods and should be used in tandem with therapy and more traditional methods.

Outpatient services include counseling, therapy, relapse prevention programs, educational outreach, medical care, and office-based medication prescriptions, offering treatment services in a flexible format. Inpatient or residential programs provide a more comprehensive and structured level of care. Detox services and therapeutic communities are available. Specialized residential programs for men, women, and children, and for those recently incarcerated and those requiring treatment for co-occurring disorders are all offered within Boston. Transitional services for those who require a reduced level of care from a residential treatment program before full integration into society, such as sober living homes and communities, are options as well. Aftercare and recovery services are also available and crucial to sustained recovery.

A referral center and assessment counseling are provided by BPHC to help individuals find the right kind and level of care. Typically, the first step in receiving addiction treatment services is a comprehensive assessment provided by a highly trained professional.

List of Local Boston Addiction Treatment Resources

  • Providing Access to Addictions Treatment, Hope and Support (PAATHS): This organization provides information for families and individuals struggling with addiction. Phone support and walk-in services are available for those seeking admission and/or a referral to a local treatment program in the city or surrounding area of Boston. PAATHS helps to connect people to optimal treatment services.
  • Massachusetts Substance Abuse Information and Education Helpline: This organization allows individuals to call or use the online tool to find services based on their location and type of treatment desired.
  • Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator: Hosted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the online tool and hotline allow individuals to find local qualified and certified treatment services and providers.
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Massachusetts: This is a resource for both substance abuse and mental health services within the state of Massachusetts.
  • Narcotics Anonymous (NA), Cocaine Anonymous (CA) and Alcoholics Anonymous (AA): These national organizations have local groups that meet in multiple community locations to offer recovery support and 12-Step services all around the Boston area.
  • SMART Recovery: These peer-based recovery groups offer an alternative to traditional faith-based 12-Step programs. Multiple local meetings and groups are available.

The city of Boston and the state of Massachusetts strive to provide the highest level of care for the treatment of the disease of addiction in order to promote and sustain long-term recovery for residents. Services provided within the Commonwealth include community-based programs, services funded by the state and local governments (public programs), and privately funded and operated treatment programs.