Heroin Addiction & Recovery in Massachusetts
The opioid epidemic is touching every corner of the Commonwealth, with devastating consequences for lives and communities across the state — from the Berkshires to the Cape. According to the Massachusetts Department of Health, in 2021, there was an 8.8% increase in opioid-related overdose deaths from 2020, taking the lives of almost 2,300 people.
Fortunately, there is effective help that can help people struggling with heroin addiction in Massachusetts. Read on to learn more about the opioid crisis, its impact, and how to find treatment for you or a loved one.
Massachusetts Heroin Addiction Statistics
According to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, in 2017, there were nearly 100,000 addiction treatment admissions in the state. Of those, heroin accounted for 52.8% of admissions. By comparison, in 2016, heroin was the primary drug of abuse in 55.1% of admissions. However, “other opioids” — which included fentanyl and prescription opioids — has remained relatively steady as the main drug of abuse.
Heroin is a powerful opioid making its way into the United States from Mexico, Southeast Asia, South America, or Southwest Asia where it is cultivated from the opium poppy plant. Major East Coast cities, including Boston and its surrounding cities, are some of the biggest white powder Mexican heroin markets in the United States, the 2017 National Drug Threat Assessment published by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) reports.
Heroin can also be laced, or “cut,” with the synthetic and even more potent opioid fentanyl, which can be made in clandestine laboratories and doesn’t have to be grown in specific climates. The DEA publishes that for the calendar year (CY) 2016, Massachusetts had the second highest number of fentanyl reports to law enforcement in the United States behind only Ohio. Nearly 4,000 fentanyl-related arrests and drug seizures were made in Massachusetts during the CY 2016. Individuals may not realize that the heroin they are purchasing contains the extremely potent fentanyl, resulting in a potentially fatal overdose.
The Opioid Epidemic in Massachusetts
In 2017, the Massachusetts DPH publishes that while fentanyl was the number one drug involved in overdose deaths (found in 83 percent of toxicology screens), heroin was second, present in 43 percent of toxicology screens of fatal overdoses. Since heroin and fentanyl are often intermixed and unknowingly combined, again, it is also possible that individuals dying from a fentanyl overdose may have believed the drug to be heroin instead.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) explains that close to 80 percent of people who use heroin began by misusing prescription opioids first. Prescription painkillers can cause drug dependence with long-term and regular use. They can also produce a mellowing and desirable “high” that encourages individuals to misuse them. Prescription painkiller addiction can then segue into heroin use. The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) warns that close to one-quarter of those who use heroin will then battle heroin addiction.
The state of Massachusetts has taken several measures to minimize prescription drug abuse in an effort to prevent heroin abuse and addiction. For example, the Prescription Monitoring Program (PMP) is a statewide database that allows prescribers and healthcare professionals to track the dispensing of controlled substances, such as prescription opiates, to help recognize and put a stop to potential misuse of these medications. Additional legislation such as An Act Relative to Substance Use, Treatment, Education, and Prevention further improves the PMP, enacts a seven-day limit on new opioid prescriptions, mandates drug disposal programs and locations, and enhances statewide educational and preventative measures.
Massachusetts Opioid Overdose Prevention
With opioid overdoses reaching epidemic levels across the United States and within the Bay State, federal, state, and local officials and leaders are working to stem the tide. Massachusetts has several laws and measures in place to reduce the number of overdose deaths in the Commonwealth, including a Good Samaritan law that encourages individuals to report a suspected overdose by protecting them from drug-related charges themselves. This law also allows bystanders to administer the overdose-reversal drug Narcan (naloxone) for which Massachusetts has a standing order that allows pharmacies to dispense the opioid antagonist medication to those who need it. Massachusetts residents can find a local pharmacy offering naloxone through the standing order by consulting the DPH list of pharmacies.
The state Overdose Education and Naloxone Distribution (OEND) Program trains first responders and bystanders on how to properly administer naloxone and how and where to get the medication. The nonprofit End Mass Overdose helps to design and implement policies as well as runs education and preventative efforts to reduce and minimize overdose deaths.
Within Massachusetts, the Boston Globe reports that organizations are allowed to dispense clean syringes, often as part of a needle exchange program. Heroin is a drug that is regularly used by injection, and the use of dirty needles increases vulnerability to blood-borne and infectious diseases like HIV/AIDS and hepatitis. Clean needle exchange programs hope to minimize this risk.
Massachusetts Heroin Addiction Rehab
If you or someone you love is struggling with heroin use or addiction, know that there is effective treatment that can help you get on the road to recovery and living the life you deserve.
Contact our helpful and knowledgeable admissions navigators at to learn more about our different levels of care and to find an inpatient drug rehab in Massachusetts. Our navigators can also give you more information about different ways to pay for rehab — including how to use your insurance for addiction treatment — and help you start the rehab admissions process.
Addiction Treatment Resources
Addiction treatment services in Massachusetts are monitored and overseen by the Bureau of Substance Addiction Services (BSAS), which falls under the Massachusetts DPH. This division licenses local providers and designs and implements prevention, treatment, and recovery efforts in the Commonwealth. The Massachusetts Department of Mental Health (DMH) operates 27 offices within the state that provide treatment resources for residents struggling with mental illness based on where they live.
Residents of Massachusetts can receive a wide range of treatment services, both through the public and private healthcare sector. Public programs accept all residents, even those without health insurance or the financial means to pay for treatment. Treatment is generally provided to pregnant women, families, and those in immediate crisis first on a priority basis. Public programs often have waiting lists while private treatment facilities may be more readily accessible. Private programs often accept health insurance and offer payment plans to cover treatment services.
Massachusetts residents can find local heroin addiction treatment services via the following resources:
- Massachusetts Substance Abuse Helpline: Operated 24/7 through both phone and web-based platforms, this is an anonymous and free service for Massachusetts residents seeking information and referrals for drug abuse and addiction treatment.
- Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator: This national tool is operated by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and provides information on local (based on zip code) state-regulated treatment services by type.
- Massachusetts DMH Resource Guide: This resource provides information for residents on how to access behavioral and mental health services within the Commonwealth.
- Massachusetts Organization for Addiction Recovery (MOAR): This organization supports residents in recovery and helps families and individuals to find local treatment services as a statewide initiative.
- Magnolia New Beginnings: This Massachusetts nonprofit organization focuses on substance abuse prevention and offers educational resources and information to support local families and individuals battling drug abuse and addiction.
- New England Region of Narcotics Anonymous (NERNA): This recovery-support and self-help organization provides confidential and peer-based support through a 12-Step program with meetings held all over the state of Massachusetts.
- Learn to Cope: This is a Massachusetts organization designed to offer encouragement and resources to families with loved ones battling addiction.