Published On: Thu, Sep 15th, 2016

Baker-Polito Administration Releases Unprecedented Report on Opioid Epidemic

BOSTON  — The Baker-Polito Administration today released an in-depth analysis of the state’s opioid-related deaths from 2013-2014. The findings reveal that opioid-related deaths have increased by 350 percent in Massachusetts in 15 years and marks the first time data from multiple state agencies has been linked to give a comprehensive overview of deaths associated with the opioid epidemic.

“We are pleased to unveil this report to combine state resources and aggregate data in an innovative way to better understand the drivers behind opioid and heroin-related overdoses,” said Governor Charlie Baker.  “We are hopeful that new information will help us better understand the contours of this public health crisis as we continue to work on prevention, education and treatment in our communities to combat the opioid crisis in the Commonwealth.”

“In 2013 and 2014 alone, opioid-related deaths were recorded for two-thirds of the cities and towns in Massachusetts,” said Marylou Sudders, Secretary of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services. “In the face of this crisis, we must continue our efforts to battle this epidemic that continues to take a record number of lives.”

The analysis, performed by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health as authorized by Chapter 55 of the Acts of 2015, reviewed opioid-related deaths in 2013 and 2014 by analyzing data from multiple government entities including the Department of Public Health, the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, the Department of Correction, MassHealth, and the Center for Health Information and Analysis. The Commonwealth’s technology agency, MassIT, facilitated important integration work to bring the various streams of data together.

The report, which was released today at a reconvening of the Governor’s Opioid Working Group, chaired by Secretary Sudders, is part of continued efforts to improve the collection and release of data examining the impact that opioids have on our communities.  Fighting the ongoing opioid epidemic has been a priority of the Baker-Polito Administration since day one.  Earlier this year, Governor Baker signed landmark opioid legislation into law to address the deadly opioid and heroin epidemic plaguing the Commonwealth. 

“Opioid use disorder is a chronic disease, and this epidemic is a complex and persistent problem that will not be solved through a single solution,” said Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Monica Bharel. “This data will be leveraged to allocate resources more efficiently and effectively to help us save lives.”  

In 2015, the Governor’s Opioid Working Group released recommendations and a comprehensive Action Plan aimed at curbing the opioid epidemic. These short and long-term recommendations focus on prevention, intervention, treatment and recovery support.  Approximately 93 percent of the initiatives in the Governor’s action plan are complete or underway. More information can be found at

Key findings of the 2013-2014 analysis include:

  • Medication Assisted Treatment Reduces the Risk of Fatal Opioid Overdose. Among people who had a nonfatal opioid-related overdose, those who are engaged in opioid agonist treatment (OAT) had half the risk of subsequent fatal opioid-related overdose than those who are not engaged in this treatment.
  • Prescription Drugs Fuel the Epidemic, but Illegally-Obtained Substances Are More Closely Linked to Overdose Deaths.  Based on toxicology data, only 8.3% of opioid-related overdose decedents had an opioid prescription in the same month as their death, while an estimated 85% had heroin and/or fentanyl.
  • Benzodiazepines and Cocaine are Commonly Found in Opioid Deaths. Combining opioids and benzodiazepines was found to more strongly depress the central nervous system than just using one of the medications alone. Thirty percent of opioid decedents with a toxicology screen also had cocaine present in their system.
  • Individuals Who Have Recently Been Released from Massachusetts Prisons are More Than 56 Times as Likely to Die from an Opioid-Related Overdose.  Individuals recently released from Massachusetts prisons have a short-term risk of death from opioid overdose that is greater than 56 times the risk for the general public. 
  • The Percentage of Opioid Deaths for Different Age Groups Shows that Young People of Massachusetts are Especially at Risk. In 2013-2014, opioids accounted for more than a quarter of all fatalities in the 18-24 age group. For individuals from 25-34, opioids were responsible for more than a third of all deaths, rising to more than 40% for men in this age group. In 2015, roughly 2 out of every 3 people who died from opioids were younger than 44.
  • Women are More Likely than Men to Experience a Fatal Overdose Due to Prescription Opioid Use. While men were found to be significantly more likely to die from any opioid-related overdose, women are more likely than men to die of a prescription opioid-related overdose.  

Chapter 55 of the Acts of 2015 (Chapter 55) was passed by the Massachusetts Legislature and signed into law by Governor Charles D. Baker in August 2015. This law permits the linkage and analysis of different government data sets to better understand the opioid epidemic, guide policy development,  and help make programmatic decisions.  Importantly, in addition to providing insight into the current opioid epidemic, this effort also marks the beginning of demonstrating how government, academia, and private industry can and should collaborate to answer complex health questions.  This new model of cooperative data analysis has the potential to become the standard in Massachusetts and across the United States. The Chapter 55 project represents a process that will continue to be adapted and refined as new public health challenges and new collaborates emerge.


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