Responding to the highest number of overdose deaths ever recorded by the state, Boston Medical Center’s Grayken Center for Addiction and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health today announced a collaboration to expand and enhance a volunteer, grassroots overdose prevention helpline that provides real-time assistance to people at high risk of an overdose death.
The Massachusetts Overdose Prevention Helpline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Helpline staff stay on the line with callers who are using drugs and may experience an overdose. If a caller becomes unresponsive during the call, helpline staff contact emergency medical services. The helpline offers compassionate, non-judgmental service, and can also help people find their closest harm reduction program. The service is free, confidential, and discloses the caller’s location to emergency medical services only in the event of an overdose.
The collaboration between DPH and BMC’s Grayken Center for Addiction is the first effort in the nation by a public health department to fund and support an overdose prevention helpline. The change will allow the helpline to increase its capacity through paid staff, along with volunteers, and provide wider promotion to those in need, as well as enhanced training for volunteers, while maintaining short wait times.
“This collaboration marks a new day in our mission to prevent fatal overdoses across Massachusetts,” said Stephen Murray, MPH, NRP, Director of the Massachusetts Overdose Prevention Helpline and Harm Reduction Program Manager of the Clinical Addiction Research & Education Unit at Boston Medical Center. “All overdoses are preventable - naloxone and rescue breathing work. Yet the great majority of people who die from overdose, die alone without someone present and ready to rescue them. This overdose prevention line makes sure that people using alone get help in time.”
“I’ve met too many grieving families whose lives have been torn apart by overdose deaths. This trauma and heartbreak are preventable,” said Governor Maura T. Healey. “By providing people with an alternative to using alone, the Overdose Prevention Helpline saves lives. Massachusetts is committed to growing our role as a national leader in harm reduction and prevention efforts, and we will continue to do everything in our power to reduce overdoses and save lives.”
Dierdre Calvert, MSW, LICSW, Director of DPH’s Bureau of Substance Addiction Services, said the helpline is aimed at individuals who use alone – and who are at the greatest risk for overdose death. “The overdose prevention helpline is an important tool in our toolbox by providing a trained, compassionate, experienced person on the line to intervene if the person becomes unresponsive,” she said. “If we want to turn the tide and decrease overdose deaths, we need to support bold innovative programs like the overdose prevention helpline. DPH is proud to be a partner in this effort.”
The Massachusetts Department of Public Health reported 2,357 overdose deaths in 2022 in preliminary data, the highest level ever recorded by the state. Overdose deaths were 9 percent higher than the state’s previous high mark before the COVID pandemic.
The Massachusetts Overdose Prevention Helpline grew out of a grassroots, volunteer effort in 2020. The Massachusetts helpline has supervised more than 581 substance use events this year, providing assistance in reversing eight overdoses that likely would have been fatal without immediate intervention.
RIZE Massachusetts, an independent nonprofit foundation solely dedicated to funding and creating solutions to end the overdose crisis in Massachusetts, provided the early capacity-building financial support in 2022, helping the independent helpline grow into the model for the DPH and BMC Grayken Center partnership announced today.
"RIZE is dedicated to seeding solutions to end the overdose crisis, and the helpline is representative of our role in funding and launching projects that are then scaled up by other funders or government entities," said RIZE Massachusetts President and CEO Julie Burns. "So much innovative and impactful work is being done by providers who are on the front lines fighting this epidemic and working to save lives every day, and it is an honor to be able to support them.”
Training for volunteer call staff will continue to be provided by BMC’s Grayken Center for Addiction Training & Technical Assistance and the Massachusetts Harm Reduction Advisory Council.
If you are at risk of experiencing an overdose, call the overdose prevention helpline at 1-800-972-0590.
About Boston Medical Center
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