City working with schools and businesses to raise awareness after recent incidents

BOSTON – Staff from the Boston Public Health Commission and Boston Medical Center this afternoon joined dozens of community members for Boston’s annual Overdose Vigil, an event to remember lives that have been lost to substance abuse in the past year.  Always a somber event, the vigil took on added significance in the wake of recent suspected overdoses associated with the club drug known as Molly, a more pure form of ecstasy.

The Overdose Vigil comes just days after International Overdose Awareness Day, which was recognized on August 31.  Families and friends that have lost loved ones held a ceremony in their memories on the Moakley Green at Boston Medical Center.

“It’s been a difficult couple of weeks for our city, given the high-profile overdose incidents that we’ve seen, but we can’t lose sight of the fact that substance abuse is all too often a silent killer,” said Dr. Barbara Ferrer, Executive Director of the Boston Public Health Commission.  “Addiction has claimed too many lives in Boston, and we need to support those that struggle with these issues so that they’re not left to fight alone.  The stigma around substance abuse and recovery does nothing but hurt the people that need our support the most.”

Overdoses associated with opioids, such as heroin and the prescription pain killer Oxycontin, account for the vast majority of cases in Boston.  Under the leadership of Mayor Thomas M. Menino, the Health Commission and numerous community partners have worked to combat substance abuse deaths by increasing education and overdose prevention training for users and bystanders.

Since 2007, more than 3,200 people in Boston have received training on how to administer Narcan, a drug used to reverse certain types of overdoses, and thousands more people have been educated on overdose prevention techniques. Narcan has been credited with reversing nearly 400 overdoses in Boston in recent years.  Statewide, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health estimates that 2,000 lives have been save due to Narcan.

Earlier this year, the Boston Public Health Commission partnered with the state Department of Public Health and the Boston Police Department to introduce drug take back kiosks at district police stations across the city.  The kiosks allow people to anonymously dispose of unused or expired medications so that they do not fall into the wrong hands.

Although overdoses involving drugs such as Molly, the street name for ecstasy’s active chemical MDMA, account for less than one percent of cases in Boston, the city is ramping up its efforts to educate clubs and college students about the risks associated with these substances.  Officials will soon meet with owners and staff from popular venues around the city to discuss the signs and symptoms of drug use in general, provide tips on steps that venue staff can take to reduce the risk of overdose among patrons, and offer training to staff around substance abuse prevention.