BOSTON – The office of Governor Maura Healey announced the state funding of an overdose prevention hotline in the United States. The program provides $350,000 to the Massachusetts Overdose Prevention Helpline in a partnership with Boston Medical Center and RIZE Massachusetts. The fiscal year 2024 state budget includes more than $700 million to combat substance abuse disorder.
The helpline began in 2020 and has operated solely with volunteers to reduce risk of fatal overdoses and provide resources to individuals struggling with substance abuse disorders.
The funding will enable the helpline to hire a full-time operator and call center coordinator, as well as a part-time medical director, research director, data analyst, and program assistant. A volunteer stipend fund of $30,000 will also be created. Along with paid staff, the helpline seeks to provide stronger statewide coverage and shorten waiting times.
Promotional efforts to increase awareness of the helpline are also funded, included distribution of wallet cards, billboard advertisements, and presentations to community organizations.
In testimony on Beacon Hill last week, Worcester Health and Human Services Commissioner Dr. Matilde “Mattie” Castiel, MD, said that Worcester has the highest opioid mortality in the state.
“I’ve met too many grieving families whose lives have been torn apart by overdose deaths. This trauma and heartbreak are preventable,” said Healey. “By providing people with an alternative to using alone, the Overdose Prevention Helpline saves lives.
According to Healey’s office, since the governor was inaugurated this year the state has distributed more than 120,000 doses of naloxone to almost 30,000 individuals, resulting in at least 2,080 overdose reversals.
There were 2,357 overdose deaths in Massachusetts last year – a 2.5% increase from the previous year, with Black, non-Hispanic residents making up the largest jump. Additionally, in 2021, 92% of all overdose deaths occurred in private settings, with drug use entirely unwitnessed in 90%. By decreasing the frequency of unwitnessed overdoses, the Overdose Prevention Helpline reduces the number of overdose deaths.
According to Healey’s office, so far this year the helpline has supervised 581 use events, 483 of which have happened since July 1. In that same period, helpline operators detected and successfully facilitated the reversal of nine overdoses, and the average hold time is currently less than 15 seconds – down from four minutes at the beginning of the year.
The Massachusetts Overdose Prevention Helpline is (800) 972-0590. For more information.