AMHERST, Mass. (WWLP) – The opioid crisis continues to have a devastating impact across the nation. Doctors are calling it an “epidemic.”

“It can happen to doctors, accountants, carpenters, students; it can affect everyone,” Michael Doonan, the executive director of the Massachusetts Health Policy Forum said.

The group is now looking at the impact of addiction in the small and rural communities in western Massachusetts.

“In western Mass., the rate of prescribing opioids is much higher than it is in eastern Mass. or other parts of the state,” Doonan said. “What we’ve learned is 80 percent of the people who become addicted, they start on prescription drugs, and move onto heroin.”

In 2018, overdose deaths decreased in the state as a whole. But, here in western Massachusetts, overdose numbers actually had a 73 percent increase.

“Fentanyl was a little later to come out here,” Dr. Peter Friedmann of Baystate Health explained. “We saw increases slightly later than the rest of the state.”

Dr. Friedmann told 22News, that 90 percent of the drugs that are being sold on the streets is fentanyl, which is much stronger than heroin.

But, he said there are things being done to help treat addiction.

“Our jails now are providing medication treatment, which is the most effective treatment, to folks coming out which is a population that’s at great risk for overdose.”

The program launched September 1 and already has about 100 participants. Jails in Franklin, Hampshire, and Hampden counties are all participating.