The United States and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts are facing an historic public health crisis: the opioid epidemic has resulted in the deaths of over 28,647 people across the country, and more than 1,000 within the Commonwealth in 2014. The factors in Massachusetts that laid the groundwork for the epidemic include the ease that someone can be prescribed an opiate-based prescription by a doctor, the growing use of heroin, strict insurance regulations and limited support programs for addicts.
One promising initiative in fighting this crisis has been the Integrated Healthcare and Substance Use Collaborative. Launched as a community program by Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital – Plymouth to combat the opioid epidemic in and around Plymouth, the Collaborative is a unique partnership between the hospital, Plymouth Police Department and the district’s school system, working in conjunction with the Massachusetts Mental Health and Drug Court in Plymouth. The program has evolved to include provision of both community inpatient and outpatient behavioral and substance use disorder facilities. The central goal of the program is to provide assistance to people who are struggling with mental health and addiction problems, and their families, as they seek treatment and progress through recovery. Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital – Plymouth has now staffed its emergency department, primary care offices, and support programs with psychiatrists, social workers, and mental health clinicians in its efforts to treat patients with unique co-occurring substance abuse and mental health treatment needs.
In addition, the program’s employees have all been trained to know which local pharmacies carry “standing orders” of Naloxone (NARCAN) rescue kits, and how to provide access to the kits for veterans and people who do not have insurance. In December 2015, the Plymouth Police Department also launched project OUTREACH (Opioid User Taskforce to Reduce Epidemic and Care Humanely). The aim of this project is to allow medical professionals to follow-up with a family that witnessed the overdose of a loved one sometime between 24 and 48 hours after that overdose by making an in-home visit to the family. As part of the program, Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital – Plymouth has also installed a “MedSafe” drop location to provide easier access for people with leftover medication to dispose of it. In the first month alone, this drop box was filled with over 40 gallons of unused medications.
Since its inception, the Integrated Healthcare and Substance Use Collaborative has seen great successes achieving its mission of providing quality inpatient and outpatient behavioral and substance abuse support. Its impact should signal to other hospitals and municipalities throughout the Commonwealth that replication of this effective model could be a valuable channel through which to combat the opioid epidemic.