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Massachusetts Has Highest Rate of Opioid-Related ER Visits

A treatment area in the emergency room at Bay State Medical Center in Springfield, MA

    A new government report underscores the challenge facing public health officials in Massachusetts as the opioid addiction crisis continues to grip the state.

    Massachusetts had the highest rate of opioid-related emergency room visits out of 30 states where data was surveyed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

     There were 450 opioid-related hospital visits for every 100,000 Massachusetts residents in 2014. That is far ahead of second place Maryland – with 298 visits – and a 71 percent increase from 2009.

     The Massachusetts Department of Public Health estimates that drug overdoses caused as many as 2,000 deaths in 2016.  There were 1,579 deaths in 2015,  and 1,341 in 2014.

     Helen Caulton-Harris, Commissioner of the city of Springfield’s Department of Health and Human Services, said she is optimistic Massachusetts will turn the corner on the opioid crisis.

   "There really is a movement to try to stem the tide of this devastating public health crisis," Caulton-Harris said.

     Reversing the rising drug overdose death toll is just one challenge facing local public health officials as they begin a month-long effort to raise public awareness about health and wellness services. For the second year in a row, Hampden County ranked last in Massachusetts in the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s annual report on health outcomes.

  The report flagged the county’s high rates of premature deaths, obesity, smoking and teen pregnancy.  The only category where Hampden County did not lag the rest of the state was in clinical care.

  At a gathering of public health professionals in Springfield City Hall Monday, Caulton-Harris announced a campaign to move to the top of the health outcome rankings in one generation.

"There are many community-based organizations around the city that are working on prevention and intervention  strategies to help individuals make behavioral changes so they can live healthier lives and prolong their lives," Cauton-Harris said.

  Among the community partners in the campaign to instill healthy behaviors in the next generation are Square One, a pre-school program, and Head Start.   

  Janis Santos, executive director of Holyoke Chicopee Springfield Head Start, said each of the 1,300 children enrolled in the program is seen regularly by a pediatrician.

   "Children won't begin school successfully if they are not healthy," said Santos.  " So, health is on the front burner with Head Start."

  Harold Cox, Associate Dean for Public Health Practice at Boston University, urged public health professionals to think outside the box and work collaboratively to improve the region’s health outcomes.



Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.
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