AGENCY WILL TESTIFY NOV. 2 BEFORE JOINT COMMITTEE ON MENTAL HEALTH AND SUBSTANCE ABUSE AND THE JOINT COMMITTEE ON PUBLIC HEALTH
October 27, 2015―AIDS Action Committee announces today that it will offer expert testimony before the Joint Committee on Mental Health and Substance Abuse and the Joint Committee on Public Health on innovative programming to reach substance users vulnerable to opioid overdose. The hearing will take place on Monday, November 2 at 1pm in Room A1 at the State House.
Opioid overdoses in Massachusetts have risen 273 percent since 2000. In 2014, 1008 Massachusetts residents died from unintentional opioid overdoses, a 33 percent increase over the previous year.
“Our experience shows us that you cannot force someone who is actively using opioids into sobriety. You need to engage them with a continuum of services ranging from the availability of sterile syringes to setting goals and then implementing the steps necessary to treat addiction,” said AIDS Action Committee Executive Director Carl Sciortino. “Needle exchange programs offer a variety of services in ways that reduce risks for active drug users, prevent fatal overdoses, and address the needs of the broader community.”
AIDS Action Committee operates the Cambridge Needle Exchange and Overdose Prevention Program. Established in 1994, the Cambridge site is the oldest in the state and its primary goals are to reduce the incidence of overdose due to opioid use; reduce the transmission of HIV and Hepatitis C by increasing the availability of sterile syringes; connect clients with health care, social services, and drug treatment programs; and reduce the level of harm experienced by active drug users and their families.
Since the establishment of needle exchange programs in Massachusetts, the prevalence of HIV among residents who inject drugs has dropped by 92 percent. Last year, the Cambridge Needle Exchange and Overdose Prevention Program reversed 151 opioid overdoses through their overdose education and Naloxone distribution program; distributed 194,569 sterile syringes to injection drug users to reduce their vulnerability to HIV and Hepatitis C infection; and provided free testing for HIV and Hepatitis C.
“It’s incredibly important that we focus what’s driving the epidemic, and here in Massachusetts heroin use is behind the skyrocketing number of opioid overdoses and deaths,” Sciortino added. “To end this epidemic, we must focus our prevention and outreach efforts on people who are actively using heroin. Needle exchange programs have proven to be an incredibly effective way to connect active users with health care, social support services, and drug treatment programs. They also help reduce the levels of harm from drug use experienced by people who are using heroin, their sexual partners, and all of their family members.”