With New England in an epidemic of heroin use, Massachusetts is on the verge of forfeiting more than $9 million in federal aid for treating drug users, says the Boston Globe. The reduction is a penalty for three years of cuts in state spending on substance abuse services. Since the 2001 budget year, the state has cut nearly $11 million from what it devotes to treating drug users and preventing narcotic and alcohol abuse. Gov. Mitt Romney is proposing $2 million in additional reductions for the next budget year; a representative of the governor said those cuts would not imperil essential services.
Treatment centers and health care advocates said that Department of Public Health cuts in combination with reductions in other state programs have spawned deep reductions in services. The number of treatment beds dedicated to substance users needing urgent detoxification has dropped from nearly 1,000 statewide a year ago to just 420 now, meaning patients wait weeks or months for a slot.
States that get aid from the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration pledge to maintain fairly constant levels of support for substance abuse programs. Because Massachusetts has not, the federal agency said the state will lose $9.2 million from the $34.3 million it was to receive for the coming budget year.
The consequences of such a loss, which would amount to 13 percent of the state substance abuse budget, would prove devastating, treatment center executives warn. It would occur as the region struggles with an unparalleled surge in heroin use and deaths related to that drug and other opioids, including the prescription painkiller OxyContin. Accidental overdose deaths of Massachusetts residents attributed to opioid use soared from 94 in 1990 to 487 in 2001, the latest year for which figures are available.