Opioid-Related Deaths Down, But Not in All Demographics

May 28, 2018

An image of oxycodone with acetaminophen
Credit NIH / https://bit.ly/2JdN1cC

A new report from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health shows opioid-related deaths are down five percent compared to this time last year. And opioid prescriptions have also dropped here in the Commonwealth and nationwide. Still, the opioid epidemic is far from over, and the pace of research on effective pain management seems to be picking up. 


Michael Botticelli is the director of the Grayken Center for Addiction Medicine at Boston Medical Center. Before that, he served as the Director of National Drug Control Policy at the White House under President Obama. Botticelli says that it's significant that there's been a drop in the number of deaths, especially after years an increase in deaths. It means that there's "an indication that some strategies are beginning to take hold."

However, there is disturbing data that shows significant increases in deaths in African-Americans.  Botticelli says that's "considerable cause for pause" and that there needs to be a re-thinking of strategies to make sure that they're reaching everyone who's impacted.

Botticelli adds, "We know that this is a complex epidemic that's caused by a wide variety of factors." The approach has to be multi-faceted and has to "really be in place over time."    

One factor is the over-prescribing of opioids by physicians. Botticelli referenced a study that showed that services provided by drug companies can have an impact on how often a doctor prescribes an opioid. "Even small payments can have an impact on opioid-prescribing behavior." Botticelli believes that sales representatives should stop providing services to doctors. "No incentives should support the overprescribing of opioids," says Botticelli. "Even a small meal is no good." 

In addition to stopping the over-prescribing of drugs, Botticelli believes that another method can help the epidemic: alternate therapies. Botticelli says that things like acupuncture and physical therapy can help, and in states like Massachusetts, they're often covered by health insurance.