U.S. drug overdose deaths on the rise, how does Massachusetts compare?

WALPOLE, Mass. — The drugs left an indescribable feeling.

“My whole body, I don’t even know the feeling. I can’t even tell you the feeling,” said John Greene, founder of the Evan G. Foundation. “It’s just draining from my daughter saying police are at the door, mom is screaming and crying you got to come home.”

That feeling came in 2014 when John Greene’s 19-year-old son lost his five year battle with opioid addiction. A feeling he never thought would come again until this summer when he lost his godson.

“30 years old, I spoke to him that night and an hour later he’s dead,” said Greene.

The CDC predicts 10% more people in the U.S. will feel that feeling this year.

While the 0.9% increase in Massachusetts may not be as high as other states, we are still among the leaders in drug overdose deaths in the country and definitely in New England. The CDC predicts Massachusetts will have 133 more deaths this year than Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Rhode Island combined.

“There is a concern that the numbers will get worse before they get better so we have to redouble our efforts as a nation to limit the stigma of the disorder and doubling the enforcement of the workforce and getting people into treatment,” said Dr. Anand Parekh, Chief Medical Officer at the Bipartisan Policy Center.

DPH tells us it has been aggressive in fighting the increase from allowing telehealth health since March 12, to relaxing regulations, to increasing funding, but during this COVID-19 pandemic, it hasn’t been enough.

“Massachusetts is taking these resources trying to reduce the overdose mortality rate but what we are seeing however is multiple drug sources being used at the same time and increasing mortality rates for people of color,” said Dr. Parekh.

“Think about everything that is happening from these drug addictions,” said Greene. "The bank robberies, people sick and suffering and doing all these crazy things to get by for the drug addiction...and the money that’s being spent. Families spending money and we’re talking thousands of dollars a week on programs. We want to see the kids… what do you do?

After Greene lost his son, he started the Evan G. Foundation in his son’s name to help other families, spread awareness of the mental component of the addiction, and remove the stigma. His goal is to get kids as young as fourth grade educated so the cycle can eventually stop.

This news comes as the Department of Justice announced a settlement with Purdue Pharma totaling $8.3 billion for its role in the opioid crisis that has killed more than 400,000 Americans over the past two decades and continues to see tens of thousands die each year from opioid overdoses.

“OxyContin was the original sin of the opioid epidemic,” said Sen. Ed Markey. “Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family turned this nation into the United States of Oxy, lying about the addictive nature of these supercharged prescription painkillers, all to feed their greed. A tsunami of opioid addiction swallowed families as quickly as Purdue Pharma pushed Americans to swallow its pills. Today’s settlement does not go nearly far enough to ensure the Sacklers and the merchants of addiction who profited from the opioid epidemic compensate the people they have hurt and the families they destroyed. Trump’s Department of Justice is letting Purdue and the Sacklers off the hook because that’s what Donald Trump and his cronies do when confronted with holding corporate wrongdoers accountable. The American people deserve more justice than this for the toll the opioid epidemic continues to take.”

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