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Opioid Overdose Deaths Down Slightly In Mass.

The latest state numbers show an overall drop in opioid overdose deaths in Massachusetts, but not in all communities.

The state Department of Public Health numbers show there were 467 confirmed and estimated opioid overdose deaths in the first quarter of this year — almost 6% fewer deaths compared with the first quarter of 2019.

The new numbers include the first few weeks of the state of emergency declared in Massachusetts because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“As the COVID-19 pandemic evolves, we have taken action to ensure that crucial substance use disorder treatment and recovery systems remain available in the ongoing fight against opioid addiction,” said Gov. Charlie Baker in an emailed statement. “While we remain encouraged that opioid-related overdose deaths continue to decline from their peak four years ago, we will continue to carefully consider and monitor any impact the social isolation practices that are helping us fight the virus may have on the battle against opioid addiction.”

The pandemic prompted state and federal changes to addiction treatment, including expanding access to telemedicine and to medications that treat opioid use disorder. State officials have said the next overdose death numbers due out in the fall may provide a clearer picture of how the pandemic may have affected overdose deaths.

The DPH Wednesday also said preliminary data show there were 2,015 confirmed and estimated opioid overdose deaths in 2019. In cases where toxicology testing was done, 94% of the tests were positive for the opioid fentanyl.

The state data also paint a mixed picture of what's happening in communities. While there were reductions in overdose deaths in some communities such as Lowell, Worcester and Gardner in 2019, compared to the year before, there were increased deaths during that time in Somerville, New Bedford, Beverly and Attleboro.

Seventy-four percent of the 2019 deaths were men, but the state numbers show the death rate for women has increased.

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Deborah Becker Twitter Host/Reporter
Deborah Becker is a senior correspondent and host at WBUR. Her reporting focuses on mental health, criminal justice and education.

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