There’s a major increase in opioid-related deaths in Massachusetts — and it demands an urgent response, said the state’s Catholic bishops.
“We must offer help, support and comfort to those who have formed an addiction to prescription pain killers, as well as to those individuals who have formed an addiction to illegal drugs,” the Roman Catholic Bishops of Massachusetts said March 2.
“On average, four people lose their lives each day in this state, due to illegal and legal drug overdoses. It is a disturbing trend that must be stopped.”
Opioids are typically prescribed to relieve pain. They include Vicodin, OxyContin, morphine, codeine and related drugs.
At least 1,099 Massachusetts residents died from opioid-related causes in 2014, the state health department said. Another 74 deaths are estimated.
In 2013, 911 people suffered opioid-related deaths, compared to 668 in 2012. In 2000 there were only 338 opioid-related deaths in Massachusetts.
The state’s estimated rate of 17.4 deaths per 100,000 residents is “the highest ever,” and a 228 percent increase from 2000, the Massachusetts Department of Health said in a January 2016 brief.
Massachusetts’ Catholic bishops reflected on the problem.
“The impact is far reaching, leading to the eventual breakdown of families, friendships, neighborhoods and communities,” they said. “Given the scope of the problem, we feel some degree of urgency to find a solution to this public health and policy crisis that has reached dangerous levels.”
They said religious communities need to respond.
“We encourage our sisters and brothers who are suffering addiction or the addiction of loved ones to turn to their faith community for support, counsel and compassion, and we pray that those most affected will receive the physical, emotional and spiritual help that they need.”
On March 14 Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker signed into law a bill intended to combat opioid addiction. The Massachusetts House and Senate unanimously approved the legislation.
“Today, the commonwealth stands in solidarity to fight the opioid and heroin epidemic that continues to plague our state and burden countless families and individuals,” Gov. Baker said, according to WCVB News.
The bill includes a seven-day limit for first-time opioid prescriptions for adults and allows patients to fill their painkiller prescriptions one part at a time.
It requires schools to conduct verbal screenings of students for potential drug abuse, though parents can opt a child out of the screenings.
The bill also requires overdose victims to be evaluated within 24 hours when they seek help at hospital emergency rooms.
The state’s Catholic bishops said new legislation alone won’t solve the problem but it is a “critical step.” They urged legislation that provides resources for comprehensive education and treatment services related to opioid abuse.
In addition, the bishops encouraged legislators to take into account both the need for medical professionals to prescribe strong drugs for pain management and the danger patients face from drug overuse, abuse, and addiction that can lead to death.
They also encouraged health care providers to demand improved education about the appropriate prescription of opioids.
Numerous other states are also seeing a rise in opioid addiction. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan pledged on March 15 to make “addressing this opioid epidemic a priority.”
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