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Substance Abuse Treatment Availability in Massachusetts

CONTACT: Laura Gardner
Brandeis University

BOSTON, November 17, 2005 - A national survey shows that more than 500,000 Massachusetts residents abuse or are dependent on substances such as alcohol, prescription drugs, marijuana or other illegal drugs. Moreover, Brandeis University researchers estimate there are some 40,000 residents with the most significant drug and alcohol problems who are not getting any treatment. Providing coverage to these people would cost an estimated $110 million.

Based on estimates in other states, Massachusetts could save an estimated $7 for each dollar invested in substance abuse treatment. Numerous studies have shown the cost benefits of treatment through reduced crime, enhanced productivity and lower health care costs.

"We can pay for treatment now or continue to deal with the tragic human consequences and high economic costs associated with substance abuse. The choice is ours." said Phil Johnston, Chair of the Massachusetts Health Policy Forum, a non-partisan health research group.

Thursday, November 17, The Massachusetts Public Health Forum will bring together Lt. Governor Kerry Healey, State Senator Warren Tolman, Brandeis University experts and health officials to discuss substance abuse treatment in the Commonwealth and strategies to improve it. The forum will take place in the Ballroom of the Omni Parker House Hotel in Boston between 8:30 and 11:30 a.m.

Research by the Massachusetts Public Health Policy Forum includes these findings:

  • Treatment gaps affect all age groups and income levels and entail enormous social and economic costs:
  • In 2004, 203 traffic fatalities in Massachusetts involved alcohol, tallying an estimated cost of $304.5 million in related medical expenses, public services, lost productivity and property damage.
  • 574 people died in 2003 from heroin and other opioid overdoses in the Commonwealth. Total charges for opioid-related hospitalizations, including dependence, abuse and/or overdoses exceeded $167 million.
  • One out of five inmates in the state were convicted of a drug related offense, costing taxpayers some $76.9 million a year.

The Brandeis researchers identified a number of strategies to improve the quality of treatment in Massachusetts, including:

  • Closing what for some is a "revolving door" of detoxification treatment;
  • Engaging patients in a broader continuum of treatment;
  • Providing patient and family-centered services;
  • Identifying and increasing the use of best practices throughout all treatment sites.

This Massachusetts Health Policy Forum is made possible by a grant from the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts Foundation and is cosponsored by the Brandeis/Harvard Research Center on Managed Care and Drug Abuse Treatment and the Institute on Urban Health Research at Northeastern University.