For Immediate Release - August 04, 2015

2014 Opioid-Related Overdoses Increase

Updated numbers show disease continues to impact Massachusetts

BOSTON — The opioid epidemic facing the nation and the Commonwealth claimed more lives in Massachusetts in 2014 than initially estimated and deadly overdoses from prescription painkillers and heroin continued to take a significant toll in the first three months of 2015, according to new numbers released by the Department of Public Health (DPH) today.

DPH analysts had estimated the death count for 2014 to hit 1,008; however, based on an increase in finalized death records, today revised that estimated number to 1,256. The new data also reflects a 57% increase in confirmed unintentional overdose deaths over 2012, and a 15% increase over 2013*. Additionally, in the first three months of 2015 alone, 312 lives were lost to opioid overdoses, according to the Department. The updated data is available now at

“The opioid epidemic affects us all as families from every walk of life see the deadly impact these drugs are having,” said Governor Charlie Baker. “The solution to eradicating opioids is not a one-size-fits-all approach, and we are fighting this disease with every approach available including better analysis of where and why people succumb to the disease. Better analysis is essential to our efforts to prevent, treat and cure addiction.”

In June, the Governor’s Opioid Working Group released 65 recommendations pdf format of Recommendation of Governors Working Group
file size 1MB docx format of                             Recommendation of Governors Working Group                file size 1MB and an Action Plan pdf format of Opioid Epidemic Action Plan
docx format of                             Opioid Epidemic Action Plan                aimed at curbing the opioid epidemic. The short and long-term recommendations focus on Prevention, Intervention, Treatment and Recovery Support.

“We must take bold steps to curb this epidemic. In just a matter of weeks, we put in motion a plan to rebuild our Prescription Monitoring Program, named a Drug Formulary Commission and signed legislation to lower the cost of lifesaving Narcan for our cities and towns,” said Marylou Sudders, Secretary of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services and Chair of the Governor’s Opioid Working Group.

Under the leadership of the Baker Administration, DPH has developed and implemented a new predictive modeling technique to provide estimates of opioid overdose deaths that include confirmed cases and those that are probable but not yet confirmed by the Medical Examiner. Analysts continually improve and revise both the model and the estimates as more final determinations become available. New and updated data will be released on a regular basis.

In June, the state launched an $800,000 TV, online, and social media campaign to raise awareness among parents about the problem of prescription opioid addiction. In five weeks, the Stop Addiction in its Tracks campaign has generated 77,000 website views and over 2,100 calls to 1-800-327-5050, a hotline that connects callers with treatment options.

“We are getting the word out and citizens – our family, friends, and neighbors – are responding,” said Dr. Monica Bharel, Commissioner of the Department of Public Health, noting that curbing the rise in overdoses will take time and continued hard work. “Public awareness, along with prevention, treatment, intervention, and support efforts detailed in the Governor’s Action Plan, are powerful steps for tackling this problem.”

Working Group initiatives completed or actively underway include:

  • Increasing number of treatment beds in Greenfield by 64 by October 2015
  • Since January, 113 treatment beds have opened in six communities including Quincy, Princeton, New Bedford, Boston, Westborough, and Fall River
  • Redesigning the Prescription Monitoring Program (PMP) tool to increase usability. Implementation to commence by Fall 2015
  • Passing legislation requiring pharmacists to enter data into the PMP within one business day (24 hours) instead of within 7 days of receipt of prescription
  • Naming of Drug Formulary Commission. First meeting scheduled for August 6
  • Reinforcing the requirement that all DPH licensed addiction treatment programs accept patients who are on methadone or buprenorphine medication
  • Planning for the transfer of women civilly committed under Section 35 to MCI Framingham to Taunton State Hospital by Spring 2016
  • Issuance of Division of Insurance guidelines to commercial insurance providers on the implementation of the substance use disorder recovery law which requires covering the cost of medically necessary clinical stabilization services for up to 14 days without prior authorization
  • Improving affordability of naloxone through bulk purchasing
  • Developing a new public awareness campaign to decrease stigma around addiction, launching October 2015

The $27.8 million cost of major Action Plan initiatives is part of the 2015 supplemental budget currently before the legislature.

*This release updated 8/12/15 to clarify percentages.

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