• Report: Opioid-related deaths fell in 2017 in Massachusetts

    By: BOB SALSBERG, Associated Press

    Updated:
    BOSTON (AP) - Estimates of opioid-related overdose deaths in Massachusetts declined by more than 8 percent during 2017 after rising steadily for the past several years, state officials said Wednesday.

    In its latest report on the epidemic, the state Department of Public Health on Wednesday estimated there were 1,977 opioid-related overdose deaths last year, down 8.3 percent from the 2,155 deaths in 2016.

    The previous three years had seen fatalities increase by 22 percent, 30 percent and 39 percent, respectively.

    The numbers are based on both confirmed overdose deaths and suspected cases in which there has not yet been an official cause of death determined.

    "While there is still a lot of work to do, this report is encouraging news that gives us hope that we are beginning to bend the curve of this epidemic," said Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, in a statement.

    While the total number of deadly overdoses declined, the impact of fentanyl continued to grow. Officials say the powerful synthetic opioid was present in toxicology reports in 83 percent of the 2017 deaths.

    The report also called attention to a doubling of the opioid-related overdose death rate for Hispanic residents during a three-year period ending in 2016. The rate was 31.4 deaths per 100,000 people in 2016, compared to 15.6 deaths per 100,000 in 2014.

    Officials said the state has launched a public information campaign in Latino communities, including Spanish-language TV spots, in the hopes of raising awareness about addiction and urging parents to talk to their teenage children about opioid abuse.

    The number of people in the state receiving prescriptions for opioid painkillers continued to decline, according to the report, from about 390,000 in the first three months of 2015 to about 268,000 in the fourth quarter of 2017. A bill signed by Baker during the last legislative session established new rules and procedures for the prescribing of opioids and created a new prescription monitoring program.

    Baker is urging lawmakers to pass new proposals designed to increase access to addiction treatment and toughen penalties for fentanyl trafficking.

    "This is an opioid overdose epidemic, and we know that the nature of an epidemic is that you have to stay ahead of it and that's what we are determined to do," said Monica Bharel, the state's public health commissioner.

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