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Partnership with Boston Medical Center and RIZE Massachusetts provides 24/7 access to overdose detection services and peer-to-peer support
September 26, 2023
The Healey-Driscoll Administration today announced a partnership with Boston Medical Center and RIZE Massachusetts to fund and expand the Massachusetts Overdose Prevention Helpline. With this $350,000 investment, Massachusetts becomes the first state in the nation to fund an overdose prevention helpline – an easily accessible and life-saving overdose detection resource for people who use drugs. This is the latest step in the administration’s efforts to reduce overdose deaths in Massachusetts, which reached a record high in 2022.
The Massachusetts Overdose Prevention Helpline uses a spotting model to prevent fatal overdoses. Trained helpline operators stay on the line while people use, alerting authorities if the caller becomes unresponsive. Previously a volunteer effort, this investment will enable the helpline to hire paid staff, resulting in stronger statewide coverage and shorter wait times. The funding will also support promotional efforts to increase awareness of the helpline’s services among individuals at risk of overdose.
“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.”
“The opioid crisis has devastated every community in Massachusetts and fatal overdoses are continuing to increase,” said Lieutenant Governor Kimberley Driscoll. “Last year, overdoses reached a record high, highlighting the critical need for harm reduction tools like this one. By having this free helpline accessible for everyone in Massachusetts, we are making our state a safer and healthier place to live. I’m thrilled to move one step forward in this seemingly endless fight against overdose.”
Massachusetts continues to advance access to harm reduction, treatment, recovery, and prevention services. Since taking office, the Healey-Driscoll Administration has distributed more than 120,000 doses of naloxone to almost 30,000 individuals, resulting in at least 2,080 overdose reversals. The administration has also distributed over 347,000 fentanyl test strips at no cost to consumers and expanded the statewide network of DPH-funded peer recovery support centers to eliminate gaps in coverage. Last month, Governor Healey signed a FY24 operating budget investing more than $700 million to combat substance use disorder.
Since its grassroots inception in 2020, the Overdose Prevention Helpline has been operated solely by volunteers. With this investment, the helpline will be able to hire several full-time employees including a full-time operator and call center coordinator, as well as a part-time medical director, research director, data analyst, and program assistant. The investment also includes more than $30,000 in stipends for volunteers, as well as funding for promotional efforts to increase awareness of the helpline among people who need it. This includes the distribution of 30,000+ wallet cards, direct outreach to people at Mass and Cass through a partnership with Commonwealth Land Trust, billboard advertisements, presentations to community organizations, and more.
“Across Massachusetts, far too many families are grieving loved ones lost to preventable overdose deaths,” said Secretary of Health and Human Services Kate Walsh. “Naloxone reverses overdoses and saves lives, but it only works if someone is there to administer it – that’s why we need the Overdose Prevention Helpline. To win the fight against the opioid crisis, we need innovative solutions driven by people with lived experiences, and this helpline is yet another example of that.”
“This expanded program is more than just a helpline – it’s a lifeline,” said Massachusetts Commissioner of Public Health Robbie Goldstein. “A compassionate and understanding voice on the other end of the phone can provide the kind of reassurance and support someone struggling with substance use disorder needs at a vulnerable time. That caring voice also serves as a reminder that help and hope are right there, within reach.”
“The Overdose Prevention Helpline is an important tool in our toolbox, providing a trained, compassionate, experienced resource on the line to intervene if the person becomes unresponsive,” said DPH Director of Substance Addiction Services Deirdre Calvert. “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.”
Governor Healey first announced the administration’s intention to fund a free statewide overdose prevention helpline in June 2023, as part of the state’s immediate strategic response to increased overdose deaths. There were 2,357 overdose deaths in Massachusetts last year – a 2.5% increase from the previous year, with Black, non-Hispanic residents making up the largest jump. Additionally, in 2021, 92% of all overdose deaths occurred in private settings, with drug use entirely unwitnessed in 90%. By decreasing the frequency of unwitnessed overdoses, the Overdose Prevention Helpline reduces the number of overdose deaths.
So far in 2023, the helpline has supervised 581 use events, 483 of which have happened since July 1. In that same period, helpline operators detected and successfully facilitated the reversal of nine overdoses, and the average hold time is currently less than 15 seconds – down from four minutes at the beginning of the year.
“This collaboration marks a new day in our mission to prevent fatal overdoses across Massachusetts,” said Stephen Murray, Director of the Massachusetts Overdose Prevention Helpline. “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.”
“RIZE is dedicated to seeding solutions to end the overdose crisis, and the hotline 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.”
To contact the Massachusetts Overdose Prevention Helpline, call 800-972-0590. For more information, visit massoverdosehelpline.org.