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Press Release Opioid-related overdose deaths continue to decline in Massachusetts

For the first three months of 2018, opioid-related overdose deaths declined by an estimated 5 percent over the first three months of 2017.
For immediate release:
5/22/2018
  • Department of Public Health

Media Contact for Opioid-related overdose deaths continue to decline in Massachusetts

Ann Scales, Communications

BostonOpioid-related overdose deaths continued to decline overall year over year in Massachusetts and the number of overdose deaths where fentanyl was present continued to rise to 85 percent, according to the latest quarterly opioid-related deaths report released today by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

For the first time, the report includes data that:

  • Counts the number of confirmed opioid-related overdose deaths by the city or town where the death occurred in addition to the city or town where the decedent lived.
  • Includes supplemental data that examines the differences in the toxicology of those who died of opioid-related overdoses by race and ethnicity for select substances.

"While there is still a lot of work to do, we are encouraged to see opioid-related deaths declining and prescriptions for Schedule II drugs significantly decreasing through our reconfigured prescription monitoring program," said Governor Charlie Baker. "Our administration was pleased to see the Legislature act on a bill to crack down on fentanyl and now urge them to pass the CARE Act to expand access to treatment and continue the momentum we have against this epidemic."

The quarterly report found that for the first three months of 2018, opioid-related overdose deaths declined by an estimated 5 percent over the first three months of 2017, according to preliminary data. The report also found that the total number of estimated and confirmed opioid-related deaths for 2017 is 2,016, which is 133 fewer deaths than the 2,149 estimated and confirmed deaths in 2016, or a 6 percent decline.

The Baker-Polito administration successfully launched a new Prescription Monitoring Program (PMP) online system in August 2016 to improve performance, access, and usability for prescribers and pharmacists and includes availability to medical residents and new interconnectivity with neighboring states. Since its implementation, MassPAT has been searched more than 10 million times to help doctors care for their patients who receive opioids and the latest report shows a 30 percent reduction in the number of people receiving schedule II opioid prescriptions.

"Our latest report provides a clear roadmap on addressing existing challenges," said Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders. "This quarterly report and the accompanying additional analysis provide us with tremendous insight into how we can more strategically target our resources and interventions."

The quarterly report shows for the first time the city and town where the opioid-related overdose death occurred and found that the state’s largest two cities – Boston and Worcester – recorded the largest number of opioid-related overdose deaths.

According to the report, the rate of fentanyl present in the toxicology of opioid-related overdose deaths climbed to 85 percent in 2017, while the rate of heroin or likely heroin present in opioid-related deaths declined between 2015 and 2016 and stabilized in 2017 to about 44 percent of opioid-related overdose deaths in the fourth quarter of 2017.

"The quarterly reports are snapshots in time and they give us extremely useful information to better understand the trajectory of this epidemic," said Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel, MD, MPH. "While we’re making progress, we continue to increase access to treatment and recovery supports, and will tailor responses for particular populations including black residents whose overdose death rates are increasing, based on this data."

The Q1 2018 report findings include:

  • For the first three months of 2018, opioid-related overdose deaths declined by an estimated 5 percent over the first three months of 2017, preliminary data shows.
  • The percentage of opioid-related overdose deaths where prescription drugs were present has trended downward since 2014 when 26 percent of these deaths with a toxicology screen showed evidence of a prescription opioid.  In 2017, prescription opioids present in toxicology screens remained flat relative to 2016 at 16 percent.
  • Just over 580,000 Schedule II opioid prescriptions were reported to the Massachusetts Prescription Monitoring Program, more than a 30 percent decrease from the first quarter of 2015 (841,990 Schedule II opioid prescriptions).
  • Approximately 265,000 individuals in Massachusetts received prescriptions for Schedule II opioids in the first quarter of 2018, which is more than a 30 percent decrease from the first quarter of 2015 (390,532 individuals).
  • Between 2016 and 2017, confirmed opioid-related overdose death rates decreased for White non-Hispanics and stabilized for Hispanics. As previously reported, the death rate for Hispanics doubled over a three year period, from 15.6 opioid-related overdose deaths per 100,000 population in 2014 to 31.2 opioid-related overdose deaths per 100,000 population in 2016. In 2017, the death rate for Hispanics decreased slightly to 30.1 opioid-related overdose deaths per 100,000. However, the confirmed opioid-related overdose death rate for Black non-Hispanics continued to go up in 2017 and increased 82 percent between 2014 and 2017.
  • The number of suspected opioid Emergency Medical Services overdose incidents in 2017 (22,107) is stable compared with 2016 (22,417). 

The Q1 2018 report also includes new information examining toxicology reports by race for select substances to help communities understand who is at risk so they can better tailor their responses to the epidemic. The report found:

  • The percentage of cocaine present in the toxicology screen of opioid-related overdose deaths trended up for all races between 2014 and 2017.
  • The presence of cocaine among opioid-related overdose deaths was highest among black non-Hispanics and Hispanics compared to white non-Hispanics.
  • The trend of cocaine and fentanyl without heroin present in the toxicology of opioid-related overdose deaths increased across all races but the percentages are higher among black Non-Hispanic followed closely by Hispanics.

Since 2015, the Baker-Polito administration has doubled spending to address the opioid crisis and increased capacity by more than 1,100 treatment beds, including 748 adult substance use treatment beds at different treatment levels, and certified 2,119 beds at 160 Sober Homes. In addition, the administration is investing $219M over five years from the federally approved 1115 Medicaid waiver to meet the needs of individuals with addictions and/or co-occurring disorders.

Other efforts to address the opioid crisis include:

  • In November, the Baker-Polito administration announced its second major legislative effort to combat the opioid epidemic. Known as the CARE Act, the plan includes increasing access to treatment and recovery services, addressing gaps in the care provided after detoxification, strengthening education and prevention efforts, and securing regulatory relief from the federal government to increase treatment access. It is currently awaiting legislative action.
  • A recently announced $11.7 million federal grant continues the public health response to the opioid epidemic and bolsters community overdose prevention, outpatient opioid treatment, and recovery services across the Commonwealth. This is the second consecutive year the state has received the funding, bringing the two-year total to $23.8 million.
  • Addressing the disproportionate risk of opioid overdose deaths among incarcerated populations by making available medication-assisted treatment and recovery services to incarcerated individuals with an opioid use disorder at six Houses of Corrections.
  • Creating the first statewide dashboard of key metrics to monitor the progress and care of families impacted by perinatal substance use. The dashboard provides population-level measurements to clinical providers, public health workers, and community agencies. 
  • Launching the Journey Project, an interactive web-based resource for pregnant and parenting women with substance use disorders.  The site, featuring informational slideshows, video testimonials, and links to resources, is designed to increase access to treatment and provide support, guidance, and encouragement to women in recovery.

For more information on the Commonwealth’s response to the opioid epidemic as well as links to the latest data, visit www.mass.gov/opioidresponse. To get help for a substance use disorder, visit www.helplinema.org, or call the Massachusetts Substance Use Helpline at (800) 327-5050.

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Media Contact for Opioid-related overdose deaths continue to decline in Massachusetts

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.

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