Massachusetts Health Officials Release Quarterly Report on Opioid OD Deaths

BOSTON — The Massachusetts Department of Public Health today released preliminary 2016 third quarter and updated 2015 data on opioid-related death among Massachusetts residents. The data shows deaths involving heroin continue to decline, while fentanyl-related deaths continue to rise.

“In our commitment to combat the opioid epidemic, we believe the constant release of data is a powerful tool to help us better understand the trends of this public health crisis,” said Governor Baker. “We will continue to utilize every tool available from prevention to treatment to break the cycle of addiction to support healthy families and communities across the Commonwealth.”

“While we continue to see a decline in the number of deaths involving heroin, the data released today are a sobering reminder of why the opioid crisis is so complex and a top public health priority,” said Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders. “This is a crisis that touches every corner of our state, and we will continue our urgent focus expanding treatment access.”

Key findings in the latest quarterly report include:

  • 1,005 confirmed cases of unintentional opioid overdose deaths for the first nine months of 2016, with an estimated 392 – 470 suspected opioid-related deaths that may be added to that total, a pace higher than the first nine months of 2015.
  • A continued drop in death rates involving heroin, which have decreased at approximately the same rate that fentanyl-related deaths have increased.
  • A continued rise in the number of fentanyl-related deaths with 74 percent of deaths in Q3 that had a toxicology screen showing a positive result for fentanyl.
  • A quarterly decline in 2016 in the number of prescriptions and patients receiving schedule II & III opioids, when compared to the same three-month period in 2015.
  • A steady increase in the number of opioid-related EMS transports, with a parallel increase in the number of transports requiring more than one naloxone administration in an effort to reverse the overdose.
  • An update of 2015 confirmed cases of unintentional opioid overdose deaths to 1,574.

During the three months covered by the quarterly portion of the report (July-September 2016), the Administration rolled out several new opioid prevention, intervention and treatment initiatives including:

  • Expanding first-in-the-nation core competencies for safe prescribing of opioids to community health centers, advanced nursing, physician assistant and dental schools.
  • Successfully launching MassPAT, the new online prescription awareness and monitoring tool.
  • Approval of new standing orders that allow EMS providers to administer a higher dose of naloxone to counteract overdoses. The change was in response to the need for stronger, multiple doses required for overdoses caused by fentanyl, which is far more potent than heroin.
  • Adding 75 treatment beds in Taunton and Western Massachusetts.
  • Release of an unprecedented report using advanced data to further understand the underlying causes of opioid-related deaths.

“In the midst of another report showing the toll that opioids are taking, it’s understandable to ask: where are we on the road to a solution?” said DPH Commissioner Dr. Monica Bharel. “That is not an easy question to answer in any epidemic, but I find hope in the work of communities across the state to bend the curve of these trends and bring us closer to a solution. We must continue those efforts — no matter how long it takes.”

Health officials cautioned that the opioid crisis had been building for years before escalating dramatically in 2014, and noted that addressing its effects will take a long period of sustained effort.

The report released today continues a key strategy of collecting, analyzing, and sharing data more frequently to keep the public informed and to help the administration, health officials and policymakers plan and evaluate the statewide response.

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