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Like so many other states, here in Massachusetts there can be no doubt that the use of opioids has reached epidemic proportions. The evidence is clear and compelling, as seen in terms of rising rates of fatal and non-fatal overdoses as well as trends in substance abuse treatment. In FY2013, for instance, fully half of all individuals participating in DPH-contracted substance abuse treatment programs reported opiates as their primary or secondary drug of choice.

Earlier this week I was honored to join Senator Edward Markey, White House Office of National Drug Policy Director Gil Kerlikowske, Taunton Mayor Tom Hoye, Senator Marc Pacheco, and others at an event in Taunton to raise awareness on the scourge of opioid abuse in Massachusetts and what we’re doing in partnership with health care providers, law enforcement, community coalitions, and individuals and families across the state to stop it.

Commissioner Bartlett speaks behind podium while flanked by elected officials and other dignitaries

Commissioner Bartlett joined by Senator Edward Markey and other dignitaries in Taunton.

At DPH, we are committed to a comprehensive four-part strategy to reduce the impact of opioid abuse in our families and our communities:

  1. Stop people from getting prescription medicines unless they have a medical need for it.
  2. Provide help if someone becomes addicted, to prevent sickness, injury, or death.
  3. Treat the person’s addiction.
  4. Provide recovery support to both the person and their families.

The DPH Bureau of Substance Abuse Services (BSAS) has made significant progress on opioid abuse prevention, intervention, treatment, and recovery. Here’s an overview of the concrete action steps that we’re taking in communities across Massachusetts in each of these areas.


  • Offer training on overdose prevention/education for all addiction treatment providers
  • Fund prevention coalitions to address underage drinking, prescription drug abuse, and opioid overdose.
  • Require prescribers to take educational programs on pain management and addictive disorders.
  • Locate “drug take-back” boxes in 100 communities so that residents can safely return drugs to their local police station.
  • Collaborate with 91 communities to prevent opioid use, abuse and overdose through the Mass Opioid Abuse Prevention Program.
  • Train healthcare providers through the Screening, Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT) program in a variety of setting, including hospital Emergency Departments, healthcare settings, and 32 school-based health centers.
  • Offer free educational materials on overdose prevention, underage alcohol use, and safe use and disposal of prescription medications through the DPH Massachusetts Clearinghouse.


  • Prevent “doctor shopping” by requiring licensed prescribers and pharmacists to enroll in the Prescription Monitoring Program (PMP).
  • Send prescription monitoring alerts to prescribers when patients have opioid prescriptions from multiple providers within a short time period.
  • Enable people to report overdoses to law enforcement without fear of arrest under Good Samaritan Law.
  • Provide Nasal-Naloxone – a proven opioid overdose-reversal tool – for any person/bystander who may witness an opioid overdose. To date, over 21,000 people have enrolled in the Naloxone program and nearly 2,500 lives have been saved.


  • Provide robust treatment services for individuals addicted to opioids, including detoxification, medication assisted treatment, residential recovery homes, and outpatient treatment. In fact, based on the most current survey data, Massachusetts ranks 6th in the nation in terms of providing addiction treatment services.

Recovery Support Services:

  • Support Learn to Cope meetings for family members of people with substance abuse disorders.
  • Fund peer-led, community-based recovery support centers in all regions of the state.
  • Enable youth to receive an education in a safe, recovery environment through recovery high schools.

And yet even with all of this, there is still much more to do. We look forward to continuing our work with our partners in healthcare, law enforcement, local government and community stakeholders to reduce the heartbreaking impact of opioid abuse on individuals and their families in Massachusetts.


Written By:

Commissioner of the Department of Public Health

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