Mass. set a record last year for overdose deaths. Here's what the state is doing about it

Twenty-thousand purple flags planted on Boston Common in front of the State House commemorate the people who lost their lives to drug overdoses in Massachusetts over the last 10 years. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
Twenty-thousand purple flags were planted on Boston Common in front of the State House in 2022 to commemorate the people who lost their lives to drug overdoses in Massachusetts over the last 10 years. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

Editor's Note: This is an excerpt from WBUR's daily morning newsletter, WBUR Today. If you like what you read and want it in your inbox, sign up here

From City Hall to Boston Common to the Zakim Bridge, you’ll be seeing a lot of purple across the region today. That’s because it’s International Overdose Awareness Day. The symbolic displays come after Massachusetts set a record for opioid overdose deaths last year.

Here’s a look at the numbers and what the state is doing about it:

(Courtesy Massachusetts Department of Public Health)
(Courtesy Massachusetts Department of Public Health)

Six and a half: That’s how many people, on average, died each day in Massachusetts from overdoses in 2022, according to state estimates. Preliminary data put the total number at 2,357 deaths — a 2.5% increase over the previous high in 2021. As WBUR’s Martha Bebinger recently reported, among racial groups, the most dramatic increase (42%) was among Black residents, while Native Americans had the state’s highest overall per-capita rate of overdose deaths by far. Worcester County saw the largest increase in the state, at 18%.

Getting on the road this Labor Day weekend? Now might be a good time to leave. AAA Northeast says congestion on the highways will start to pick up this afternoon around 2 p.m.

  • What about tomorrow? The advice is to leave even earlier. AAA spokesperson Mark Schieldrop told WBUR’s Samantha Coetzee that traffic will get worse by about 11 a.m. tomorrow.
  • And the return leg? Schieldrop expects both Monday and Tuesday afternoon traffic to be heavy coming back into the Boston area. “We expect things to be pretty busy,” he said. “A lot of that travel has already started in earnest with the rise of hybrid work and flexible schedules. It seems that many folks are taking additional days surrounding the Labor Day holiday to really extend that three day weekend into a five, six or even a seven day vacation.”

Add this to the list of next month’s MBTA service disruptions: The postponed closure of the Green Line Extension’s branch to Union Square is back on the schedule. Due to MassDOT work on the nearby Route 28 bridge, the one-stop leg will close for 25 days starting on Sept. 18 — a reduced timespan from the originally planned 42 days.

P.S.— Sept. 1, the Boston area’s biggest moving day, is almost here. While you may need to entice family and friends with free pizza and beer to lug your furniture and boxes into your new place, we can help you unpack your moving priorities to get settled sooner. Check out our moving-to-Boston checklist here, and then sign up for our soon-to-launch newsletter with a series of guides to everything Boston newcomers need to know to feel more at home in the city. (If you’re someone who’s already settled in, forward this to a new-to-Boston friend, family member or colleague who could use the free tips!)


Nik DeCosta-Klipa Newsletter Editor
Nik DeCosta-Klipa is the newsletter editor for WBUR.



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