Mass. opioid OD deaths drop for second straight year

Opioid deaths decreased 4 percent, from 2,056 in 2017 to 1,974 deaths last year, according to the latest quarterly report

By Marie Szaniszlo
Boston Herald

BOSTON — Opioid-related overdose deaths in Massachusetts declined in 2018 for the second straight year, but fentanyl continued to fuel the opioid epidemic, officials said Wednesday.

Opioid deaths decreased 4 percent, from 2,056 in 2017 to 1,974 deaths last year, according to the latest quarterly report released by the state Department of Public Health. That followed a 2 percent decrease in 2017 from the 2,099 deaths the previous year.

Fentanyl, however, a synthetic opioid 80 to 100 times stronger than morphine, according to the U.S. ?Drug Enforcement Administration, was present in the toxicology of 89 percent of those who died in the third quarter of 2018, while the rate of heroin present has been declining since 2016, falling to about 34 percent of opioid-related overdose deaths that were screened in the third quarter of last year.

“Fentanyl is a major contributor to deaths in this epidemic,” said Public Health Commissioner Dr. Monica Bharel. “The problem is it’s cheaper than heroin and other opioids. It’s cheap, and it’s easy to get. And its potency is really driving these deaths.”

Gov. Charlie Baker said that while he’s encouraged to see fewer opioid-related overdose deaths for a second consecutive year as well as a 35 percent decrease in reported opioid prescriptions since the first quarter of 2015, the opioid epidemic continues to present a serious challenge made more difficult due to the presence of fentanyl.

“We look forward to working with our colleagues in the Legislature to continue ramping up the commonwealth’s funding for prevention, intervention, treatment and recovery services in the FY20 budget,” Baker said in a statement, “in addition to the administration’s proposal to strengthen the hand of law enforcement by providing $5 million to support a new Regional Fentanyl Interdiction Task Force.”

When police make multiple drug arrests in a community, dealers not caught up in the sweep typically move to a neighboring community and continue to sell, officials said. But the proposed task force would allow participating police departments to coordinate regionally when they make arrests to decrease the chance of that happening. The funding Baker is proposing would help supplement surveillance work and overtime costs, and officers in the field also would work to get buyers into treatment.

Copyright 2019 Boston Herald


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