Opioid Treatment in Boston

Opioid addiction and overdose are among the nation’s top health crises, and with each year. It becomes clearer that more must be done to reduce the number of opioid-related deaths.

In Boston, the capital of Massachusetts, at least 382 people died in confirmed opioid-related overdoses between 2017 and 2018, according to this report from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

In Suffolk County, where Boston is the county seat, more than 200 people died each year from opioid-related overdose deaths between 2016 and 2019, according to this health department report, which suggests that overdoses that occur in Boston make up the most fatalities in that county.

While these numbers could change because the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner is still confirming cases for those years, they illustrate that opioid misuse and addiction are a problem in one of the commonwealth’s largest cities.

The picture is not all grim, however. Opioid use disorder (OUD) can be treated, and so people who are struggling with the misuse and abuse of prescription medications and the illicit opiate heroin have treatment options in Boston that can help them work toward recovery.

Medication-Assisted Treatment for Opioid Addiction

Some people who want to curb or end their opioid dependence or addiction turn to medication-assisted treatment (MAT), an approach that supporters view as an effective way to treat substance use disorders involving opioids and alcohol.

The comprehensive treatment program aims to address all factors contributing to opioid misuse and abuse, including the mental and psychological ones, too. It combines government-approved prescription medications, behavioral therapies, and counseling to help people overcome their opioid dependency.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) says MAT has several benefits, including:

  • Increasing chances that chronic opioid users live
  • Increasing retention rates of recovery programs
  • Discouraging use illegal opioids, such as heroin

MAT patients also can get help with finding and keeping their jobs, and outcomes among women with SUDs who are pregnant or give birth.

People from all walks of life may find MAT beneficial. It has been found particularly helpful for those who fail to reach sobriety after multiple tries of quitting opioids. While relapse is a common part of recovery from substance use disorders, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, it can be life-threatening.

Medication-assisted treatment can help people avoid relapse and keep them committed to their recovery. People in recovery from heroin use and other opioid prescription medications can benefit from a MAT program.

Suboxone, buprenorphine, naltrexone, and methadone are the drugs administered to MAT patients. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved their use in MAT, and they can be administered during the medical detox phase of treatment.

The medicines are used with the aim to bring relief from drug withdrawals and drug cravings, which can be unrelenting and deadly without medical help. The medications also block the effects of more potent opioids, which can make it easier for people to focus on the therapy and counseling they need to recover.

Education is a key part of this kind of program, as patients learn how to manage their drug cravings and address triggers in a healthy way to avoid a relapse. They also learn the signs of relapse and what to do to avoid one. Those in the program also must allow themselves to be monitored, receive help with employment, and agree to other services that promote sobriety.

MAT programs are not without criticism. Some point out that using medication replacement therapy to treat drug dependence could put patients at risk of becoming dependent on the drugs that are supposed to help them stop using.

SAMHSA counters that view by explaining why the medications are used, writing, “MAT programs provide a safe and controlled level of medication to overcome the use of an abused opioid.”

MAT patients also must agree to follow certain rules of the program. Before they can begin, they must agree to receive monitored medical care, help with finding employment, and other services that promote their recovery. As with any substance treatment plan, the person considering a MAT program will have to decide if it is right for them.

If you are interested in pursuing MAT, Serenity at Summit is here to show you what treatment options you have in this kind of therapy. Depending on the severity of opioid dependence, you (or a loved one) may start your recovery in a residential program or an intensive outpatient program.

Each situation is different, so you are encouraged to call to ask questions and get answers that fit your situation.

How Boston Is Addressing Its Opioid Crisis

Boston is addressing the opioid threat to the city with various programs and services to help people struggling with OUD and other substance use disorders.

Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh has led several initiatives to address the city’s opioid crisis. The year 2018 was an instrumental one in his term. According to the city’s website, he created the Office of Recovery Services to study substance use in Boston and develop the city’s strategy for addressing SUDs, addiction, and recovery.

He also required city public safety vehicles to carry naloxone (Narcan), a drug that reverses opioid overdoses, and created a 24-hour hotline to improve people’s access to recovery services.

The battle against opioid misuse has also prompted the city to take legal action against the pharmaceutical industry. It filed a complaint in 2019 in Suffolk County Superior Court in Boston. Other states followed their lead.

In 2019, opioid overdose reversal kits were installed in municipal buildings in the city. Boston also has a Post-Overdose Response Team (PORT) that helps people in the neighborhoods connect with city services that can help them.

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