In Massachusetts, more than 275,000 people — or 4.6 percent of people over the age of 11 — have opioid use disorder as of 2015, nearly four times more than previously estimated, according to a new study co-authored by Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) researchers.
The study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, found counties with rural populations had some of the highest prevalence of opioid use disorder, including Berkshire (6.06 percent), Bristol (5.81 percent), Hampden (5.34 percent), Barnstable (5.03 percent), and Worcester (4.38 percent). For Suffolk County, which encompasses Boston, the prevalence was 3.36 percent.
“Those with opioid use disorder are particularly hard to find and count due to stigma and lack of engagement with healthcare and other support services,” says study co-author Dr. Laura White, associate professor of biostatistics at BUSPH. “Beyond estimating the prevalence of opioid use disorder, this study gives us an increased understanding of the large number of individuals who are undiagnosed and not getting support or services.”
For this study, the researchers used data from the Massachusetts Public Health Data Warehouse, a novel database that links data from 16 state agencies for a comprehensive analysis of health care system utilization and fatal and non-fatal opioid overdoses rates. Through a system called “capture-recapture” analysis, the researchers were able to identify how many people were known to have an opioid use disorder based on their encounters with the health care system in each year from 2011 through 2015. By looking at how many individuals showed up multiple times over that period, the researchers were then able to estimate how many more people had opioid use disorder but were not included in the data.
The researchers estimated that the prevalence of opioid use disorder in Massachusetts for those over the age of 11 was 2.72 percent in 2011, 2.87 percent in 2012, 3.87 percent in 2013, 3.94 percent in 2014, and 4.6 percent in 2015.