In another distressing snapshot of the opioid epidemic gripping America, a new study reports that nearly 5 percent of older children and adults in Massachusetts have an opioid use disorder.
The study found that 4.6 percent of people over the age of 11, or more than 275,000 in the state, abuse opioids. That’s nearly four times higher than previous estimates based on national data, the study authors said.
“There are many people with opioid use disorder who do not encounter the healthcare system, which we know is a barrier to understanding the true impact of the opioid epidemic,” said study leader Dr. Joshua Barocas. He is an infectious disease physician at Boston Medical Center.
Opioids include prescription painkillers like OxyContin, Vicodin and codeine, as well as heroin and synthetic opioids like fentanyl.
The analysis of data from Massachusetts showed a steady climb in rates of opioid use disorder among those over age 11 — 2.7 percent in 2011, close to 2.9 percent in 2012, nearly 3.9 percent in 2013 and 4.6 percent in 2015.
The greatest increases in rates of opioid use disorder were among those ages 11 to 25, the researchers said in a medical center news release.
The number of people known to have an opioid use disorder increased from just under 64,000 in 2011 to over 75,000 in 2012, and from nearly 94,000 in 2013 to just over 119,000 in 2015.
Rural counties had some of the highest rates, including: Berkshire (6 percent); Bristol (5.8 percent); Hampden (5.3 percent); Barnstable (5 percent); and Worcester (4.4 percent). The rate in Suffolk County, which encompasses Boston, was 3.3 percent in 2015, the study found.
The rising rates of opioid use disorder are likely contributing to the continuing increase in overdose deaths in the state, the study authors added.
For the study, the investigators analyzed several linked public health data sets, resulting in a more accurate assessment of the impact of opioids in Massachusetts. This shows that better surveillance systems are needed locally and nationally to provide more accurate data about opioid abuse, the researchers said.
Improved surveillance can help increase diagnoses and treatment of these disorders, Barocas and his colleagues concluded.
The study was published online Thursday in the American Journal of Public Health.
The study was funded, in part, by the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the Boston University School of Medicine.