The rate of opioid overdose deaths has plateaued in Southeastern Massachusetts. That’s consistent with state-wide statistics from the Department of Public Health, which show the rate fell 4% last year. It's the second year in a row that the overdose death rate has declined slightly, after five years of steady increase between 2011 and 2016.
Dr. Robert Caldas, Chief Medical Officer for Southcoast Health hospital group, said, “we have seen a slight decrease in the number of opioid-related deaths. We’re still seeing a lot of overdoses, but fortunately not all of those result in death.”
Caldas credits the decrease in the death rate to the widespread availability of overdose reversal drug Narcan, opioid prescription monitoring systems, and efforts to funnel overdose patients from emergency departments into treatment programs.
That last program comes in response to a bill signed in January by Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, ordering emergency rooms to connect opioid patients with treatment programs. Emergency rooms in New Bedford, Fall River, and Wareham are delivering on that promise, said Caldas.
“So if you come into the emergency department, either as an overdose patient or someone’s who’s disclosed that they have opioid use disorder, then they offer that person a transition into treatment.”
The treatment involves connecting patients to social workers and recovery clinics, and potentially sending them home with a kit of Buprenorphine, a drug that is used to treat Opioid Use Disorder.
Only a handful of patients have accepted the treatment so far, Caldas said, as overdose patients often are not prepared to talk about treatment when in the Emergency Department. There are community efforts to follow up with patients after they’ve been discharged.
“The follow up programs have actually met with much more success, where patients the following day are able to think a little more clearly,” Caldas added. “And the other important aspect of it is that you can engage supportive loved ones in the home.”
St. Luke’s Hospital in New Bedford was the first emergency department in the hospital group to set up the medically-assisted treatment program. Charlton Memorial Hospital in Fall River and Tobey Hospital in Wareham launched their programs a month later.