Massachusetts state police are reporting more than 200 suspected heroin overdose deaths during the first three months of this year, a figure that doesn't even include the state's three largest cities.
According to the statistics provided by the state police, there were 72 suspected heroin overdose deaths in March. The totals for the first two months of the year were similar: 72 deaths in February and 73 in January.
Among the March deaths, 54 were men and 18 women. The average age of those who died was 36.
The 217 fatalities were recorded in every region of Massachusetts, but state police noted they don't keep the records of suspected heroin deaths in Boston, Worcester and Springfield, so the statewide total was almost certainly higher.
Republican Gov. Charlie Baker has created a 17-member task force to address the state's heroin and prescription drug abuse crisis, which he has called a public health emergency. The governor and other administration officials are scheduled to attend a public meeting of the panel at the State House on Thursday.
The state police began compiling a detailed database on suspected overdoses around the state in December, using a new shared case management software system, state police spokesman David Procopio said.
Officials hope by recording the data thoroughly they can look for trends among the deaths that could help lead investigators to the source of the illegal drugs, he said.
The state Department of Public Health previously reported 978 overdose deaths related to opioids in Massachusetts in 2013, up from 668 the previous year. Figures for last year weren't available.