The Healey administration on Tuesday announced a partnership with Boston Medical Center and the nonprofit RIZE Massachusetts to “fund and expand” the Massachusetts Overdose Prevention Helpline.
The Department of Public Health said the state is the first in the nation to fund an overdose prevention helpline with a $350,000 investment to hire paid staff for the program, which has been a volunteer effort since it began in 2020.
The helpline uses a “spotting model” to prevent fatal overdoses, with trained operators talking on the phone with people using drugs and alerting authorities when callers become unresponsive, DPH said.
State officials said there were 2,357 overdose deaths in Massachusetts last year, a 2.5 percent increase over 2021, when 92 percent of overdose deaths occurred in private settings.
“By decreasing the frequency of unwitnessed overdoses, the Overdose Prevention Helpline reduces the number of overdose deaths,” DPH said.
The funding will pay for employees that include a full-time operator, call center coordinator, part-time medical director, research director, data analyst, and program assistant, as well as efforts to raise awareness about the helpline for those who need it, according to DPH.
The prevention helpline can be reached at 1-800-972-0590. More information is available online at massoverdosehelpline.org.
So far this year, DPH said, the helpline has “has supervised 581 [drug] use events” and detected and facilitated the reversal of nine overdoses.
The helpline is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and offers “compassionate, non-judgmental service,” officials at Boston Medical Center said.
“This collaboration marks a new day in our mission to prevent fatal overdoses across Massachusetts,” Stephen Murray, harm reduction manager of the hospital’s Clinical Addiction Research & Education Unit and the director of the helpline, said in a statement.
“All overdoses are preventable — naloxone and rescue breathing work,” Murray said. “Yet the great majority of people who die from overdose die alone without someone present and ready to rescue them. This overdose prevention line makes sure that people using alone get help in time.”
Governor Maura Healey said the overdose crisis takes a toll on families.
“I’ve met too many grieving families whose lives have been torn apart by overdose deaths,” Healey said in a statement. “This trauma and heartbreak are preventable. By providing people with an alternative to using alone, the Overdose Prevention Helpline saves lives.”
Travis Andersen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.