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Massachusetts—the birthplace of four US presidents (John Adams, John Quincy Adams, John F. Kennedy, and George H.W. Bush)—is the third wealthiest state in the United States with a median household income of $77,378 (as of 2019.) Given Massachusetts's wealth, it would be tempting to think that it had been spared the scourge of drug addiction that has ravaged poorer states, but this isn't the case. Despite being relatively well-off in terms of resources, "The Bay State" continues to have one of the highest rates of substance abuse in the country.
When we look at the relationship between addiction and economics, we quickly realize that it's quite complicated. In 2016, over 955,000 Massachusetts residents admitting to using illegal or illicit drugs in the past. Drug and alcohol abuse is a national problem, and no state in the US has been spared. Over 60,000 overdoses occurred nationwide in 2016, nearly 175 people dying daily. Drug overdoses kill more people annually than suicides, homicides, car accidents and guns. These numbers increase every year.1012
Poorer people are statistically more likely to struggle with drug or alcohol abuse, but this doesn't necessarily mean that people that are more well-off economically are less likely to become addicted. In fact in some cases, wealthy people can be thrown into poverty as a direct result of addiction. Someone who is solidly middle class can fall into poverty if their addiction leads to poor work performance and job loss. It can also then be harder to get a new job, if someone has been fired from their old one. It's a vicious downward spiral.
Much like the rest of the United States, the scourge of opioid addiction has blown through Massachusetts like a blizzard, laying waste to whole communities, and decimating families. In recent studies, Massachusetts has repeatedly ranked in the top ten for opioid overdose deaths in the country. In 2018, it had 1,617 confirmed opioid related overdose deaths, and this number does not include deaths that are suspected to be opioid related, or the cases still under investigation. Opioid addiction is a particularly menacing foe because it's a malady that can sneak up on people, even when they think they're being vigilant.
Prescription painkillers (like Oxycontin, Vicodin, and Percocet) are highly addictive, in large part because they activate the powerful reward centers in the human brain. These drugs trigger the release of endorphins, (your brain's feel-good neurotransmitters) which mask or interrupt your perception of pain and enhance feelings of pleasure and happiness, creating a short-lasting but extremely powerful sense of well-being. It's only human to love the feeling! And, when an opioid starts to wear off, it's in our very human nature to crave the return of that wonderful sense that everything is perfect and as it should be. This is the first step on the path toward addiction, and it can happen even to people who think they're being careful.
The root of the opioid problem stems from doctors over-prescribing these highly addictive drugs when, in many cases, Tylenol, Excedrin or Advil will do. These drugs may seem safe, especially when doctors prescribe them, but just one or two of few these prescription pain pills can get people hooked and send them off on a downward spiral into the throes of full-on dependency.
Unfortunately, prescription painkiller abuse can often send people down far darker paths. Opioids often lead to heroin addiction, (as heroin is cheaper than the pills, and usually far easier to obtain on the street.) The spiral downward doesn't stop there. When certain street drugs like heroin aren't available, drug abusers often then turn to incredibly powerful and dangerous synthetics like fentanyl, which sooner or later result in a body bag. In the United States, synthetic opioids, including fentanyl, are now the most common drugs involved in drug overdose deaths, responsible for 59% of all opioid-related decedents.
A recent study took a look at the substances most commonly abused by Massachusetts youth, and the numbers are concerning:
38% of Massachusetts high school students (grades 9-12) report using marijuana (also called grass, pot, or weed) 1 or more times over the course of their lifetime.
4% of these same high school students report they've used cocaine 1 or more times in their lifetime.
3% of Massachusetts youth (ages 12-17) report using pain relievers in a way not directed by a doctor in the past year.
The good news for Massachusetts residents struggling with drug and alcohol addiction is that help is only a few clicks away. The Bay State is awash in resources, whether you just need counseling, a broader more community-based approach, or full-on detox services. All it takes is the courage to take the first, terrifying step. Embrace the pain that got you here. Use it, own it, and move past it. Today is the first day of the rest of your life.
Massachusetts State Facts
Massachusetts Population: 6,349,048
Law Enforcement Officers in Massachusetts: 19,350
Massachusetts Prison Population: 23,200
Massachusetts Probation Population: 44,119
Violent Crime Rate National Ranking: 18
2004 Federal Drug Seizures in Massachusetts
Cocaine: 46.9 kgs.
Heroin: 6.8 kgs.
Methamphetamine: 0.7 kgs.
Marijuana: 84.7 kgs.
Ecstasy: 4 tablets
Methamphetamine Laboratories: 1 (DEA, state, and local)
Massachusetts Drug Situation: Cocaine and Heroin continue to be the primary drugs of abuse in the state of Massachusetts as Colombian and Dominican traffickers dominate the distribution throughout the state. OxyContin continues to be an extremely popular heroin substitute as well as its use in conjunction with MDMA.
Cocaine in Massachusetts: Cocaine is readily available from the gram to kilogram quantities throughout the state. New York is the primary source area, with other source areas to include Florida and the Southwest Border. Cocaine is transported in multi-kilogram quantities via commercial transit, tractor trailers, and vehicles equipped with hidden compartments. It is also imported via mail services. Importers are of Colombian and Dominican origin, with retail distribution among all ethnic groups. Cocaine prices continue to be stable, with slight decreases in purity levels noted. Crack Cocaine is obtained from New York, Florida, Puerto Rico and is converted locally as well. African -American violators and street gang members continue to dominate the drugs’ distribution. Abuse remains widespread and crack continues to be reported as the drug of choice within Boston city limits.
Heroin in Massachusetts: High-quality heroin is available from gram to kilogram quantities throughout the state. Historically, New York has been the primary source area, entering by interstate highway via public and privately operated vehicles equipped with hidden compartments. More recently, in the past few years, there has been an increase in heroin seizures where the heroin came directly from a source country. The primary suppliers are of Colombian and Dominican origin, with retail distribution among all ethnic groups. Heroin distribution and use occurs throughout the state and prices remain extremely low at both the wholesale and retail level. Abuse is widespread, with continued reports of heroin overdose deaths and incidences attributed to heroin purity levels routinely exceeding 60%.
Methamphetamine in Massachusetts: Methamphetamine has a limited availability in Massachusetts, transported into the area via express mail packages from California. Recent seizures reflect the availability of crystal methamphetamine. Methamphetamine is reportedly abused at “rave” parties by young adults between the ages of 18 to 25; however, individuals in their late 30s to early 40s also abuse it.
Club Drugs in Massachusetts: In the state of Massachusetts, MDMA and ketamine are readily available. MDMA is found at rave parties, legitimate nightclubs, and on college campuses across the state. The majority of the MDMA seen in the state originated from couriers traveling by commercial airlines or express mail deliveries from sources in Western Europe and New York. A number of seizures have involved MDMA originating from Canada. Ketamine has been diverted from legitimate sources such as veterinary clinics and abused at legitimate nightclubs across the state, particularly in the greater Boston area. Ketamine seems to be one of several drugs, along with MDMA and GHB that are popular in the “rave” scene. GHB is widely available, particularly in Western Massachusetts.
Marijuana in Massachusetts: Marijuana remains readily available in all areas of the state with the majority of product originating in Mexico or the Southwestern United States; however, marijuana of both Colombian and Jamaican origin has been encountered. Personal use quantities of hashish continue to arrive in Boston, MA on flights from the Netherlands and other source countries. The majority of the marijuana is predominantly imported from the southwest border via aircraft, land vehicles, and delivery services. Domestically grown marijuana is found in all areas of Massachusetts, from the extreme western part of the state all the way out to Nantucket Island.
Other Drugs in Massachusetts: Oxycodone products continue to be diverted in the state. Percocet, Roxicet and OxyContin are readily available in Massachusetts. Oxycontin, diverted from legitimate distributors, is frequently imported into Massachusetts from Mexico. Traffickers are also diverting OxyContin express mail shipments into the greater Boston area. Well-organized doctor shopping rings forged and/or altered prescriptions and diversion from individuals’ prescriptions are the most commonly found diversion methods in the state. An increasing number of pharmacy burglaries and armed robberies have been attributed to the increase in OxyContin abuse.
DEA Mobile Enforcement Teams: This cooperative program with state and local law enforcement counterparts was conceived in 1995 in response to the overwhelming problem of drug-related violent crime in towns and cities across the nation. There have been 409 deployments completed resulting in 16,763 arrests of violent drug criminals as of February 2004. There have been 16 MET deployments in the State of Massachusetts since the inception of the program: Lynn, Revere, Webster, Springfield, Lawrence, Everett, Fitchburg, Southbridge, Greenfield, Holyoke, Framingham, Worcester (2), Boston (2), and Provincetown.
DEA Regional Enforcement Teams: This program was designed to augment existing DEA division resources by targeting drug organizations operating in the United States where there is a lack of sufficient local drug law enforcement. This Program was conceived in 1999 in response to the threat posed by drug trafficking organizations that have established networks of cells to conduct drug trafficking operations in smaller, non-traditional trafficking locations in the United States. Nationwide, there have been 22 deployments completed resulting in 608 arrests of drug trafficking criminals as of February 2004. There have been no RET deployments in the State of Massachusetts.
Massachusetts Drug Courts/Treatment Centers: Based on information from the 2000 National Survey of Substance Abuse Treatment Services, there are 356 substance abuse treatment centers in Massachusetts. There are twenty drug courts across the state.