A new study from the Boston Medical Center found that the number of people struggling with opioid addiction in Massachusetts could be much higher than previously thought.
In 2015, 4.6 percent of Massachusetts residents 11 years and older were struggling with opioid use disorder (OUD) according to the new research. Previously the number was thought to be closer to 1 percent.
“Many people in this line of work — with boots on the ground in our clinical experience — think we probably are underestimating not just opioid use disorder but opioid misuse,” said Dr. Joshua Barocas, an infectious disease clinician and researcher who was the lead author on the study.
The study was published in the American Journal of Public Health, and used a large database that links multiple state agency databases in Massachusetts over time. The paper emphasized that addiction seemed to be increasing most among young people.
“Part of what we’re learning by doing this sort of research is who is unknown to the system,” Barocas said. “There were large increases over time of opioid use disorder among children, adolescents, and emerging adults … So certainly, some additional resources should go toward that community.”
The greatest increase in prevalence of OUD was observed in the youngest group of people (11-25 years old), with a 75 percent increase from 2011 to 2012, and a 42 percent increase from 2013 to 2015.
"It's on us as clinical providers and public health officials to go out and engage communities in care rather than assuming they'll come to us," he added.