Researchers at Boston Medical Center (BMC) have performed the tough task of identifying the hows and whos of the statewide opioid epidemic that is killing nearly 2,000 people a year in Massachusetts.
The study from BMC’s Grayken Center for Addiction and published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence looked at 2,244 opioid-related overdose deaths from 2014 and 2015 where toxicology results were available. Seventeen percent of those deaths had only opioids present, 36% had opioids and stimulants (primarily cocaine), and 46% had opioids plus other substances, but not stimulants.
The Grayken Center says the study “shows that opioid-related overdose deaths involving another substance is now the norm, not the exception, in Massachusetts.” The study also noted who is most affected, saying, “individuals over the age of 24, non-rural residents, those with co-morbid mental illness, non-Hispanic black residents, and those with recent homelessness were more likely to have opioids and stimulants, such as cocaine or methamphetamine, in their systems at their time of death than opioids alone.”
“As a provider, these findings indicate a pressing need to address and treat not just opioid use disorder, but other substances that patients are misusing,” said lead author Joshua Barocas, M.D., an infectious disease physician at BMC and assistant professor of medicine at BU School of Medicine. “To truly make a difference in reducing opioid overdose deaths, we must tackle issues such as homelessness and access to mental health services. This means not only investing in treatment but also implementing tailored programs that address the specific barriers to accessing care.”