Mass. opioid overdoses on rise again as 2020 sees 5% increase in deaths

BOSTON — Opioid overdose deaths in Massachusetts rose by 5 percent in 2020, marking the first increase in three years and climbing to a level slightly higher than the previous peak in 2016.

Public health officials on Wednesday announced a total of 2,104 confirmed and estimated opioid deaths in 2020, a year marked by the COVID-19 pandemic and the new challenges it created in accessing health care and social supports.

Opioid overdose deaths last hit a high of 2,102 in 2016. The Department of Public Health said national figures put Massachusetts “among the states with the smallest increases in all drug overdose deaths,” pointing to preliminary Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data showing that drug overdose deaths shot up 29 percent nationally between September 2019 and September 2020.

The confirmed opioid overdose death rate for all Massachusetts residents ticked up from 28.7 per 100,000 in 2019 to 30.2 per 100,000 in 2020. Black non-Hispanic males experienced the highest increase in the rate of opioid overdose deaths over the year, with that figure surging from 32.6 to 55.1 per 100,000 people in 2020.

“The disparities in overdose trends among Black men underscore the need to continue our public health-centered, data-driven approach to the opioid epidemic that is disproportionately impacting high-risk, high-need priority populations,” Dr. Monica Bharel, the state’s public health commissioner, said in a statement. “Too many families have lost loved ones to overdoses and we remain steadfast in our commitment to providing recovery supports needed, especially for those hardest hit by the opioid crisis.”