Boston's Opioid Abuse Rates Rising As Treatment Beds Dwindle

By McCarton Ackerman 06/05/15

Boston area treatment centers are operating at near full capacity.

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As rates of opioid abuse continue to rise in Boston, open beds in the city’s facilities have continued to dwindle and could soon reach a critical breaking point.

New data released this month by the city’s Office of Recovery Services found that detox programs in Boston are now operating at 97% capacity, with patients waiting an average of three weeks to obtain a bed in residential treatment programs. Experts have noted that more beds will be needed simply to keep up with Boston’s anticipated population growth, even if drug abuse and overdose rates remain the same.

It doesn’t appear that those rates will be slowing down anytime soon, though. Unintentional heroin overdoses rose by a staggering 76% between 2010 and 2012, while heroin-specific calls to Boston’s emergency medical services department climbed 25% between January and November of 2013.

Surveys cited in the report found that 11.3% of Bostonians ages 12 and older have either been dependent on or abused alcohol or illicit drugs within the last year. About 10% of all emergency room visits throughout the city are related to substance abuse.

There are currently 152 beds per 100,000 residents in the city, nearly four times the amount of beds for the next largest areas in Massachusetts. However, up to half of these beds are occupied by people living outside of the city. The abrupt closings last year of both a homeless shelter and a city-run methadone clinic also exacerbated the issue.

The report made numerous recommendations to address this problem, including creating a way to track the availability of beds and outpatient services in real time, as well as more cohesion within Boston’s network of treatment providers to help reduce relapse rates.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.