Opiate overdose numbers still up

New state data finds the most overdoses recorded in Massachusetts to date in 2022.

Narcan is a nasal spray that can reverse an opioid overdose. —Jeremy Driesen

A new report from state health officials shows that six individuals on Martha’s Vineyard died from an opioid-related overdose in 2022, one of the highest marks in the past 10 years on the Island.

The most opiate-related deaths over the past decade was in 2015, when seven Islanders succumbed to an overdose; five people died in 2021.

The state Department of Public Health published the new statistics on Thursday as part of an annual study.

The high number on the Vineyard coincides with the largest number of opiate-related deaths ever recorded in Massachusetts. In 2022, roughly 2,300 individuals in the state died from an opioid-related overdose. That’s a 2.5 percent increase over 2021, and a nearly 10 percent increase from 2016.

For professionals in the field on the Island, the increase in substance use overdoses is not a surprise, but a sad reminder of the toll that the opiate crisis is still having on the Island and across the country. 

“It’s not getting any better,” Brian Morris told The Times, a recovery coach and mental health and substance use disorder access coordinator with Island Health Care. “It validates what I’m seeing.”

Morris said that most tellingly, the report shows that marginalized communities are disproportionately affected by opiate use and substance use disorder. He said that the highest increase in the state data from 2021 to 2022 was among young, non-Hispanic Black men. Morris said there was about a 40 percent increase over the year in that population, and says there are early signs that trend is continuing in 2023.

Morris, who is studying a similar issue for his doctorate, said that the reason that community is disproportionately impacted is stigma. Marginalized communities don’t have access to the same type of care, whether because they don’t have adequate insurance or can’t receive a referral for treatment.

While the report is troubling, Morris says they are making strides on the Island. Since the pre-pandemic peak of opiate-related deaths in 2016, he has been working with Island police departments, schools, the county jail, and several healthcare organizations on the Island to increase access to crisis intervention, prevention, harm reduction, and treatment. 

He does say that one resource lacking on the Vineyard is a detox facility. While there is a detox facility on the Cape, Morris says there is not a cost-effective way to create a detox facility on the Island. The Island has a partnership to find a bed for someone at Gosnold Treatment Center in Falmouth, a detox facility, that Morris says has been effective. But seeking help off-Island comes with its challenges.

Elsewhere in Massachusetts, following the latest overdose report, advocates supported a bill on Beacon Hill sponsored by Cape and Islands state Sen. Julian Cyr and Island Rep. Dylan Fernandes. The bill — H 1981 in the House and S 1242 in the Senate — would launch a pilot program for cities and towns to create “overdose prevention centers.”

Fernandes tells The Times that these facilities have been proven to save lives, reduce the spread of disease, and increase the rate at which individuals seek treatment. They’ve been set up in most developing countries, Fernandes said, and mostly recently in New York City.

At an overdose prevention center, someone struggling with substance use disorder can inject drugs under the watch of a medical professional, in an effort to prevent an overdose. Users will bring in their own substances for use, but clean needles will be available to cut down on the spread of disease. And Fernandes says that healthcare professionals onsite will offer ways for individuals to get treatment.

No such facility is planned for the Cape and the Islands, but Fernandes says it could be an option for local municipalities, should the bill pass.

“It’s pretty clear that we need some other tools to combat this pandemic,” Fernandes said. “It’s unconscionable to not consider programs that have proven to work.”


  1. Another major problem is how our hospital treats addicts brought to the emergency during an overdose. The hospital ask if they are suicidal and if they answer no they can simply walk out the door and look for opiates again. They should only be released to a supervising parent or other adult who registers as a care person.

    • We need more rules and regulations.
      Hospitals must have the right to hold people against their will.
      Make leaving a hospital Against Medical Advise a Federal felony.

      • Albert, I read your posts, and while I normally disagree, I can see that thought is put into them and I respect your opinions, but, Jesus, hospitals “must” have the right to hold people against their wills. Your world vision is a little creepy.

      • They already do, believe me, even if treatment is unnecessary and unwarranted.

        Especially if crooked local cops get an off-island judge to sign an order to advance their own retaliation schemes.

        And the doctors there will lap up any lie the cop scum tell them.

        Justice is coming.

    • Mark– I’m 71 years old— if someone is 30, I consider them young.
      And what if their parents died from overdoses a couple of years ago ?
      Are you suggesting that anyone who doesn’t have a “registered” care person should just be locked into the hospital ? A little government overreach, don’t cha’ think ?
      The conservatives here would go wild about unlawful detention ( unless of course the people being unlawfully detained were people of color ) as they are all for freedom and liberty.
      I think it’s better to fund an overdose prevention center.
      That way, the hospital administrators will avoid kidnapping charges.

    • Agree, this is a huge problem, but ignores the fact that addicts typically harbor undiagnosed/untreated mental illnesses for which family/care givers are ill-equipped to manage. The lack of access to and availability of inpatient drug-addiction and mental health counseling treatment centers is at the root of this problem.
      We Americans do not take care of the mentally ill. It’s “messy”, it’s difficult, and there’s not enough profit to motivate.

      • Mike, who gets to decide who is crazy?
        Some people think that having a dozen guns designed to specifically human beings, and 10,000, rounds, is just plain crazy.
        Do you?

  2. This article piggybacks the one this week announcing island cannabis delivery, where the guy who sells recreational pot says he’s “excited” about it and that he’s “committed” to responsible ways to be un-sober.

    Too bad when all recreational dealers don’t recognize the commitment of those trying to stay clean and sober— and that of their family members desperately trying to help them.

    Of course, recreational pot users see no connection between opioid addiction and their own “harmless” addiction.

    I suppose that the compulsion to say something useless, heartless, and incredibly ignorant under virtually every headline must be another kind of addiction.

    • Jackie– I think recreational pot users don’t see a connection between opioid addiction and recreational marijuana “addiction” because there is none.
      I think we could conclude that the great majority of opioid users smoke tobacco, which actually is addictive. But, my guess is that they don’t see the connection either.

      • Lots of people who smoke Pot go on to use other more serious drugs. That is proven. I know Keller doesnt want to call it a gateway drug but it sort of is. For young people who smoke pot the effects are clear on cognitive reasoning.

        • “There has been an increase in the abuse of prescription opioids, especially in younger individuals. The current study explores the association between alcohol, cigarette, and/or marijuana use during adolescence and subsequent abuse of prescription opioids during young adulthood….AMONG BOTH MEN AND WOMEN, PRIOR MARIJUANA USE WAS 2.5 TIMES MORE LIKELY THAN NO PRIOR MARIJUANA TO BE ASSOCIATED WITH SUBSEQUENT ABUSE OF PRESCRIPTION OPIOIDS.” (caps are mine.)

          Which is not to let the drug companies off the hook. They pushed opioids like street dealers, and doctors prescribed them for everything from post surgical pain to dishpan hands. People with no prior drug or alcohol abuse sometimes became addicted.

    • Jackie what data and methodology did you use to come up with your determination?
      Has it been peer reviewed?
      How many Americans have used cannabis?
      I know of two former opioid addicts of the Island.
      One is a very successful business man, the other a famous singer, at least on Island.
      They were known for not smoking weed.

    • Equating cannabis to opioids is beyond absurd, utter nonsense! You would have a better argument going with nicotine and alcohol. At least they are highly addictive just like opioids, weed isn’t.

      • R, like unhappy families, each addiction is unhappy in its own way. Read what I actually wrote.

  3. Alcohol may be a drug, Mr.Hess, but it’s not an opioid. Which is what I was asked to comment upon for this article. If I can be of further assistance to you, I’m around and easy to find. Good day, all!!

    • Brian, there is no question that alcohol is a psychoactive drug.
      As Jackie pointed out cannabis leads to opioid addiction.
      Alcohol is usually the stepping stone drug to cannabis.
      I don’t need any assistance, I am comfortable with my knowledge psychoactive substances.
      The difficult world we live in.
      Sugar, salt, fat, caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, cannabis, cocaine, heroin, meth, fentanyl, death.
      I have now had four strong doses of fentanyl.
      My cardiac surgeon had never used that much on patient.

      • No, Hess, I never said or pointed out that “cannabis leads to opioid addiction”. Don’t make up garbage to add to the nonsense you post.

        • Cannabis use is 2.5 times more likely than no use, but no one makes a blanket statement claiming that cannabis leads to opioid addiction. That would be a 1950’s scare tactic that would get laughed at, including by me.

  4. https://www.hazeldenbettyford.org/addiction/marijuana-symptoms
    “Is Marijuana Addictive?
    Contrary to common belief, marijuana is an addictive substance. Research suggests that approximately nine percent of users develop addiction. The estimated incidence of addiction increases among those who start using at a young age (an estimated 17 percent develop addiction) and among people who use the drug daily (an estimated 25-50 percent become addicted).
    Individuals who are addicted to cannabis may experience symptoms of withdrawal when attempting to stop using the drug. Long-term users who try to quit report withdrawal symptoms such as irritability, sleeplessness, decreased appetite, anxiety and drug craving–all of which can make it difficult to abstain. Behavioral interventions, including cognitive-behavioral therapy and motivational incentives (e.g., providing vouchers for goods or services to patients who remain abstinent) have proven effective in treatment and rehab for marijuana addiction. Although medications to address marijuana/cannabis addiction are not currently available, recent discoveries about the endocannabinoid system offer promise in developing medications to ease withdrawal symptoms, block the drug’s intoxicating effects, and prevent relapse.”

    • This must true.
      It comes from people who are in the business of making money from addiction.

      Do you have as peer reviewed research on addiction?

    • is a person who has a couple beers a day an addict?
      A joint a day?
      A cigarette?
      Mocha Mott XL

  5. This increase in opioid deaths is taking place with Narcan now widely available. It’s not unreasonable to believe that the number of opioid deaths would be even higher if Narcan were not available. Which says to me that the problem is even worse than the statistics indicate.

    • Mark– As a former teacher/counselor of troubled teenagers, I intervened in 2 attempted suicides. While I have never done heroin and have only done prescription opioids after surgery, I have had 4 close friends die from opioid overdoses in my lifetime. I asked my pharmacy if I could purchase some Narcan to keep in my car in case I came upon a situation where it may be needed. I was put off by the price.

      But there is an argument to be made that some addicts take the chance to go for the higher high, knowing there is a chance they could be saved by Narcan.

  6. Dysfunctional childhoods and sexual assault ARE gateway doors to drug addiction.
    Soda and sweets (junk food) can be.
    Addictive personalities and add in childhood trauma neglect and abuse are
    gateways to drug and alcohol addiction.

  7. I’ve been smokin’ or eating marijuana for most of my adult life. Have yet to experiment with opioids. Physician-prescribed painkillers make me physically sick. I’d watch out for millk; most of us started on that.

  8. What percentage of alcohol consumers are addicts?
    I have used all of the above.
    Am I am addict?

  9. You can Google “effect of cannabis on the brain”

    “The general impression supported by many studies is that cannabis causes cognitive decline, particularly with long-term usage. Majority of studies have suggested a significant cognitive decline in cannabis abusers compared to non-abusers and healthy controls.[8–10] A report by Bartholomew et al.[11] suggested that cannabis use has a detrimental effect on prospective memory ability in young adults but users may not be aware of these deficits. Cannabis is known to produce substantial acute effects on human cognition and visuomotor skills. Many recent studies additionally revealed rather long-lasting effects on basic oculomotor control, especially after chronic use.[12] Even so, it is still unknown to what extent these deficits play a role in everyday tasks that strongly rely on an efficient saccade system, such as reading.”

    You can also Google what happens in adolescent brains, brains which have not yet fully developed:
    “Heavy exposure to cannabis during adolescence can cause significant neurocognitive changes. It can alter emotional responsiveness and social behavior, and cause impairments in sustained attention, learning, working memory (WM), cognitive flexibility, and the speed of information processing.”

    • It also makes you more appreciative of nature.
      I certainly believe it can alter emotional and social behavior–
      My opinion is it shapes it for the better.
      I can even take a line from a frequent commenter here and say it’s proven.
      Most things shape the development of young brains.
      I would much rather my teenage daughter smoke pot than drink vodka.
      Or listen to fox news for that matter.

      • I don’t understand treating weed and vodka like either is acceptable in that scenario. It would be more responsible for adults to take the negatives of both into account and determine neither is suitable for teens. That is the only conclusion that lines up with decades of research.

        True, many, many factors affect young brains. They’re constantly remodeling, even into one’s mid-20s. We, as a community, should use this fact to their advantage. To help them thrive. Since we know through scientific means that some influences—namely marijuana, alcohol, and nicotine—can have serious, long-term consequences, why wouldn’t we foster better decisions?

        Addiction doesn’t come down to one cause. One thing. It’s the interplay of various factors. Some may be beyond our control. Some are modifiable. We are lucky to live in an era when neuroimaging has come far enough to allow for insight into the finer points. Applying what’s been learned is key, though. Information has little value if we don’t actively strive to use it.

        In my experience, these discussions always boil down to someone countering said science with their positive, subjective feelings about weed. I think that does the topic, and those most vulnerable to misuse, a disservice. I’ve no doubt the opioid crisis would still exist without marijuana, etc. Patients who have never touched drugs before have become addicted to these incredibly powerful, damaging substances.

        But if we really want to tackle addiction properly, we have to examine all known factors. Not just those that are socially acceptable to mention. What’s more important—defending a recreational habit or getting the correct info out there so folks can make informed choices? For a long while, the message has been that weed = totally harmless.

        It’s simply not true.

  10. I knew a woman whose husband habitually (ab)used alcohol and pot. She much preferred when he was stoned, not drunk, because he wouldn’t hit her then. She divorced the unhappy guy who couldn’t deal with his “leisure” time with a clear head, but refused help for the pathology he brought to the relationship.

    It’s a signal of unresolved trauma to believe the habitual lack of clearheadedness somehow enhances life’s experiences. It doesn’t. It simply puts aside a misery that impacts one’s ability to experience joy and awe and the glory of being alive— misery always comes back until it is dealt with. It’s a terrible waste to believe this. Life is shorter than we know.

    Good parents do everything they can to keep drugs and alcohol away from their underaged children. They have no preferences for harmful substances, just as they have no preference to see their child get one harmful illness over another.

    It’s a mistake to underestimate what habitual cannabis dependency does.

    • It’s a bigger mistake to think you know what’s best for everyone else. I use cannabis, drink beer here and there. Don’t do other drugs. Don’t use to escape reality. Why do you think you know what’s best for me? Some of us are prone to addiction, some aren’t. Cannabis is safer than alcohol or any other mind altering drug. I would wager that anyone claiming cannabis was a gateway to harder drugs would have found their way to the hard drugs with or without cannabis.

      • Lol. No one listens to what I think, that’s why I provide links. The mistake is thinking you know more than the scientific evidence. I can say that it’s a mistake to underestimate what habitual cannabis dependency does, because that’s what the science proves. You will notice, please, that I always clearly say HABITUAL cannibis use– which leads to dependency. It’s also a mistake to think that I am talking about how you spend your leisure time, here and there, and not habitually.

        Yes, of course, people who’ve never used drugs can become addicted to opioids, like after they’ve been prescibed by doctors.

  11. Ms Mendez. thank you for your clear headed articulate post. As some who did all manner of stuff between 62 and 66 living in the Haight Ashbury I know of which you speak. There by the grace of God go I.

  12. Jackie– most of your points are quite reasonable, and you even bother to post some studies that back up your point.
    But Anecdotal stories do not prove a point.

    For example– after 6 years of Catholic school, and “god ” “calling home” my best friend in addition to one of the most caring adults I have ever met in a boy scout drowning incident on a “frozen” lake– I was angry– I was on the road to sociopathic behavior — yes– think the worst about young boys on that path and their treatment of other living creatures.
    And then I got stoned— rather than figuring out the most horrible way to kill a turtle, I understood that that turtle deserved to do whatever it wanted. And I became fascinated with their ability to defend themselves, live a long life, reproduce, and continue the millennia of living life to their ability.
    Yup– I’ll put it out right here, Jackie– Marijuana altered my way of thinking…. It saved the lives of many an innocent small animal. And. I don’t know– maybe some people.
    You know , it seems Jeffery Dahmer, Ted Bundy Ted Kaczynski, and the great majority of mass murders are not known to be “pot heads”.
    Such is the problem with anecdotal stories.

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