By Lynn Ibekwe
Although opioid abuse has been a growing problem over the past decade, public awareness has only recently peaked due to opioid deaths around the country reaching epidemic proportions and the deaths of celebrities like Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Cory Monteith. Opioids are highly addictive substances that include heroin and prescription pain medication such as morphine, codeine, oxycodone, and buprenoprhine. Characterized as an “urgent public health crisis” by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, rates of fatal heroin overdose, opioid drug trafficking, and prescription drug misuse and abuse have sharply increased in recent years. According to Drug Administration Enforcement (DEA) officials, the growing use of heroin stems from the corresponding growth in prescription painkiller abuse. In 2010, about 12 million Americans reported using prescription painkillers for non-medical purposes in the past year. Today, four out of five adults (ages 12 and older) who recently began using heroin had previously abused painkillers.
Massachusetts communities have not been immune to the opioid epidemic. With many New England cities and towns now reporting dramatic increases in opioid overdoses and death, communities and stakeholders across MA are mobilizing to address this growing problem. ICH has been engaged in a number of these efforts over the past few years, including the current Massachusetts Opioid Abuse Prevention Collaborative (MOAPC) and the Partnerships for Success II (PFS II) initiatives.
MOAPC is a Massachusetts Department of Public Health Bureau of Substance Abuse Services (BSAS) funded project that aims to increase both the number and the capacity of communities across Massachusetts addressing opioid misuse and abuse. ICH works with the MOAPC Cambridge cluster, consisting of Cambridge, Everett, Somerville, and Watertown and lead by the Cambridge Public Health Department (CPHD). The mission of this collaborative is to employ systems-level approaches to prevent opioid misuse and reduce unintentional deaths and hospital events associated with opioid poisonings. Cluster members are currently strategizing around activities and initiatives to address key factors associated with opioid abuse, overdose, and death in their communities, such as access to opioids, low provider knowledge around prescription drug misuse, and misconceptions around the safety of non-medical use of prescription drugs.
ICH also collaborates with the cities of Quincy and Worcester on the three-year PFS II project funded through BSAS. Impact Quincy and the City of Worcester’s Division of Public Health (WDPH) were two of the many community-based prevention programs in MA awarded PFS II dollars to address prescription drug misuse and abuse in their communities. Both organizations have spent the past year identifying a number of prevention strategies to address misuse among youth, including:
- Increasing the number of locations for safe disposal of prescription drugs
- Developing mass media and educational campaigns aimed at raising awareness among parents and community members
- Conducting trainings and professional development workshops to educate physicians and other medical providers around the non-medical use of prescription drugs (NMUPD)
- Developing social norms/marketing campaigns and a health curriculum for youth around misperceptions of peer use and safety of NMUPD
As the local evaluator for these initiatives, ICH assists these multi-sectoral groups in identifying evidence-based strategies for opioid abuse prevention, soliciting and analyzing community input, and documenting and understanding their impact. Our participatory approach values local knowledge and encourages capacity building so that our communities are well equipped to curb this disastrous epidemic.
 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Results from the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Summary of National Findings, NSDUH Series H-46, HHS Publication No. (SMA) 13-4795. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2013.
The views expressed on the Institute for Community Health blog page are solely those of the blog post author(s), and do not necessarily reflect the views of ICH, the author’s employer or other organizations with which the author is associated.