A city in Middlesex County, Massachusetts, Waltham is impacted by the public health crisis surrounding opioid and drug abuse and overdoses as is the entire Commonwealth. Per analysis reported by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH), Chapter 55, there were four times as many opioid-related overdose deaths in Massachusetts in 2015 than there were in 2000.

As of 2014, the opioid-related death rate in Massachusetts is more than twice the national average. There were 15 reported opioid-involved overdose deaths in Waltham in 2016, the Patch publishes, a dramatic increase from the four opioid overdose fatalities recorded less than five years prior in 2012. Opioid abuse and overdoses are a major cause for concern in the United States overall as well as in Massachusetts and within Waltham.

waltham massachusetts

In Waltham, according to data collected on public substance abuse treatment admissions for the fiscal year (FY) 2014 by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MDPH) Bureau of Substance Abuse Services (BSAS), residents cited alcohol as the primary substance of abuse (45.9% of all treatment admissions). Nearly 500 people were admitted into DPH BSAS programs in Waltham during the FY 2014. Heroin was the second most cited drug as 44.2% of those admitted reported it as their primary drug of abuse. Approximately 6% of Waltham treatment admissions reported other opioids as their primary drug of abuse; 1.9% cited marijuana; and 1.4% reported other drugs as their primary substance of abuse.

Statewide, residents of Massachusetts tend to struggle with drug and alcohol abuse and dependence, as well as serious mental illness (SMI) at rates that are similar to national averages, the Behavioral Health Barometer: Massachusetts, 2015 publishes. Behavioral health treatment options in the Waltham area are multifaceted and dependent on each individual seeking care.

Local Behavioral Health Treatment Programs and Services

The State of Massachusetts Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHSS) and the Bureau of Substance Abuse Services (BSAS) oversees and contracts out substance abuse treatment services to local Community Health Centers (CHCs). With a location in Waltham, Charles River Community Health provides treatment information and resources for local substance abuse services and programs.

Public addiction and mental health treatment programs accept MassHealth members (the Massachusetts Medicaid program) and provide resources for all local residents, even those with limited financial resources. Public mental health providers are overseen by the Department of Mental Health (DMH), which is the State Mental Health Authority in Massachusetts.

Individuals often engage in criminal behaviors as a result of substance abuse or mental health issues. Massachusetts has several different specialty courts in place to help these people get into treatment programs.

Addiction treatment services tend to fall into the following categories: prevention, treatment, transitional, and recovery services. Preventative measures are often community-based and may be provided by local coalitions and nonprofit organizations. Treatment programs are either publicly or privately funded; those that are contracted through the state are public programs. These public programs, as published by the Massachusetts Behavioral Health Partnership (MBHP), provide detox and medical detox services, residential care, intensive outpatient treatment, and outpatient care as well as medication-assisted programs. These programs are typically open to local residents on a walk-in basis depending on availability.

Transitional services, such as therapeutic communities (TCs), recovery homes (RHs), and social model homes (SMs), require a referral from a BSAS-contracted treatment program for admission. The Governor’s Working Group on Opioids: Update 2016 reports that there are 83 sober homes in the state that are certified by the Massachusetts Association of Sober Houses. Transitional living services can serve as a step-down level of care for those who have completed a residential program and are needing a stable and sober living environment for added support before integrating fully back into society and returning home. Recovery services support individuals and their families, offering continued encouragement and resources for a healthy and fulfilling life.

Resources for mental health and addiction prevention, treatment, and recovery services in the Waltham area can be found below:

Combating Opioid Abuse in Waltham and Massachusetts

In 2016, the City of Waltham and the Waltham Health Department created the position of a city substance abuse counselor and social worker to address the drug abuse and opioid overdose public health crisis, per Waltham Wicked Local. A local grassroots group has sprung up out of this newly formed position already, the Waltham Overcoming Addiction (WOA) group, which is dedicated to reducing the negative connotations that often come with the disease of addiction and raising awareness regarding the hazards and issues surrounding the serious mental illness.

The State of Massachusetts has instituted three different public outreach and education campaigns in order to minimize drug abuse, reduce opioid overdoses, and lower the stigma of addiction. The Stop Addiction in Its Tracks campaign works to increase public awareness of the disease of addiction, educating the public on warning signs and risk factors. In order to dispel negative associations about addiction, the State Without StigMA campaign provides resources and information on the disease of addiction.

Combating Opioid Abuse in Waltham

Massachusetts has a Good Samaritan law in place that protects people who call in a potential drug overdose from any drug-related charges. The Make the Right Call public information campaign educates the public on this law and also informs people how to use the opioid overdose reversal drug Narcan (naloxone) and where to get it. Narcan is available at local pharmacies throughout the Commonwealth without a prescription.

The BSAS Drop Box Initiative instituted prescription medication drop-off locations so people could get rid of unwanted and unused medications. This helps to keep these potentially dangerous substances out of the hands of those who may abuse them, reducing prescription drug diversion and abuse.

Massachusetts also has a Prescription Monitoring Program (PMP) called MassPAT (Massachusetts Prescription Awareness Tool) that providers use to track and record the dispensing of all Schedule II through Schedule V controlled substances. By keeping track of these potentially addictive medications and who is using them, providers may be better able to spot warning signs of drug diversion and abuse. Massachusetts also imposes a limit of seven days for all benzodiazepine and narcotic prescriptions to reduce abuse and minimize the potential for drug dependence and addiction.

Massachusetts officials have also increased public addiction treatment beds and access to opioid treatment programs and medication-assisted treatment options to support opioid addiction recovery. Private addiction treatment programs can offer a comprehensive system of care for families and individuals as well. Both public and private substance abuse and mental health treatment programs aim to improve the overall health and wellbeing of the Waltham, Massachusetts, community.