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Press Release Baker-Polito Administration Releases Latest Quarterly Data on Opioid Epidemic

Opioid-related deaths fell 5% in first 6 months of 2017 vs. same period last year
For immediate release:
  • Department of Public Health

Media Contact for Baker-Polito Administration Releases Latest Quarterly Data on Opioid Epidemic

Ann Scales, Communications

Boston — Opioid-related deaths in Massachusetts declined by an estimated 5 percent in the first six months of 2017 compared to the first six months of 2016, according to the second quarterly opioid-related deaths report of 2017 released today by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH). The report also found that the increase in the death rate is slowing year over year. While the presence of heroin and prescription opioids in opioid-related deaths continued its downward trend, the presence of fentanyl continued to rise, underscoring its role as a major contributor to this opioid crisis.

“The opioid and heroin epidemic has brought tragedy to far too many families, and while the Commonwealth has a lot of work to do there are some signs of progress in this report,” said Governor Baker.  “Our administration has improved data collection to better understand the trajectory of this public health crisis, and will keep using and developing tools to fight the epidemic at every level and save more lives.”

The quarterly report comes on the heels of a comprehensive assessment of opioid-related deaths in Massachusetts between 2011 and 2015 that was released last week by state public health officials. This report highlights that not since the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 1980s and 1990s has Massachusetts seen such a sharp increase in a single category of deaths.

"We know it takes a prolonged, sustained effort to turn the tide of an epidemic like this,’’ said Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders.  “We’re committed to continuing to build upon on our strong foundation of prevention, intervention, treatment, and recovery for as long as it takes to end the epidemic.’’

Selected Findings and Observations from the 2017 Q2 Report on Opioid-Related Deaths

  • The total number of estimated and confirmed  deaths in the first six months of 2017 is 978, which is 53 fewer deaths than the 1,031 estimated and confirmed in the first six months of 2016 -- representing a 5 percent decrease.
  • The increase in estimated death rates is slowing year over year: The estimated opioid-related overdose death rate in 2016 increased by 17 percent from 2015; there was a 31 percent increase in 2015 from the year prior; and in 2014 there was a 40 percent increase from 2013.
  • The rate of prescription opioids present in opioid-related deaths continues to trend downward: In the first quarter of 2014, about 26 percent of deaths with a toxicology screen showed evidence of a prescription opioid.  In the first quarter of 2017, prescription opioids were present in about 15 percent of opioid-related overdose deaths where a toxicology result was available.
  • In the second quarter of 2017 there were approximately 638,000 Schedule II opioid prescriptions reported to the Massachusetts Prescription Monitoring Program, a nearly 28 percent decline from the first quarter of 2015, which saw  841,990 Schedule II opioid prescriptions.
  • The rate of fentanyl present in opioid-related deaths with a toxicology screen continues to rise and reached 81 percent in the first quarter of 2017, from a low of 19 percent in the third quarter of 2014.
  • The rate of heroin or likely heroin present in opioid-related deaths continues to decline from a high of about 74 percent in the second quarter of 2014 to a low of 39 percent in the first quarter of 2017.
  • The majority of opioid-related deaths continue to occur among white residents (82 percent of deaths). However, the burden of opioid-related deaths among Hispanic residents increased significantly between 2015 and 2016. The confirmed opioid-related death rate for Hispanics increased by 54 percent, from 19.8 per 100,000 opioid-related deaths in 2015 to 30.4 deaths per 100,000 opioid- related deaths in 2016.
  • In the first quarter of 2017, Emergency Medical Services (EMS) administered naloxone on average 1.4 times per opioid-related incident. Nearly one-third of opioid-related incidents required more than one dose of naloxone.
  • The number of confirmed opioid-related deaths for 2016 is updated to 1,990.
  • The number of confirmed opioid-related deaths for 2015 is updated to 1,670.

“The data contained in our quarterly reports are snapshots in time,” said Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel, MD, MPH. “They help paint a picture of where we are in the epidemic and, more importantly, offer clues to how we can respond in the most efficient and effective way possible.’’

The Baker-Polito Administration has emerged as a national leader in fighting the opioid crisis. In March 2016, the Administration implemented a first-in-the-nation 7-day limit of opioid prescriptions to reduce first-time exposure to opioids.  The Administration also overhauled its prescription monitoring system, requiring prescribers to use the newly created Massachusetts Prescription Awareness Tool (MassPAT) and check the database before writing a prescription for any Schedule II through V controlled substances. Since its implementation in August 2016, MassPAT has been searched more than 5 million times.

The Baker-Polito Administration also launched first-in-the nation core competencies for safe prescribing of opioids in medical schools, community health centers, and in nursing, physician assistant and dental schools, touching virtually every single future prescriber educated in the Commonwealth. The state is now collaborating with 9 Schools of Social Work in Massachusetts to implement core competencies around the treatment of people with a substance use disorder.

Earlier this month, Massachusetts announced it is providing treatment and services to those who are incarcerated, a high-risk population for opioid use disorder upon their release. $500,000 in funding has been provided to five Houses of Corrections to be used for a wide range of pre- and post-release treatment and recovery services, including Medication-Assisted Treatment for inmates with an opioid use disorder. That funding is part of an $11.7 million Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) grant that the Department of Public Health received earlier this year.

And Massachusetts continues to expand access to naloxone. In June, the Baker-Polito Administration provided $100,000 in naloxone, also known by its brand name Narcan, to 10 community health centers as part of increasing public awareness about the important role of the overdose reversal drug in saving lives.

The Overdose Education and Naloxone Distribution (OEND) program has trained more than 61,000 people (including those who use drugs, family members, health and human services providers) since the program began in 2007; about 14,000 people were trained in 2016 alone.

More than 11,000 overdose rescues have been reported since the OEND program began in 2007, including 3,600 rescues in 2016 alone.  An additional 5,000 overdose rescues have been reported by the 32 First Responder Naloxone Grant agencies since 2015. First responder naloxone grants are provided to 32 high-need communities.

In addition, Massachusetts has added nearly 600 adult substance use disorder treatment beds since January 2015.

To learn more about the opioid epidemic in Massachusetts and how to get help for substance use disorders, visit or contact the Massachusetts Substance Abuse Helpline at (800) 327-5050.


Media Contact for Baker-Polito Administration Releases Latest Quarterly Data on Opioid Epidemic

Department of Public Health 

DPH promotes the health and well-being of all residents by ensuring access to high-quality public health and healthcare services, and by focusing on prevention, wellness and health equity in all people.