State health officials: Opioid-related overdose deaths are down

State health officials: Opioid-related overdose deaths are down

BOSTON — Opioid-related overdose deaths in Massachusetts fell 6% in the first nine months of 2019 compared to 2018, the Mass. Department of Public Health announced Monday.

Between January and September of 2018, Mass. DPH there were 1,559 confirmed and estimated opioid-related deaths. During that same time period in 2019, officials say there were 1,460 deaths; 99 fewer than in 2018.

Health officials say the decline in deaths is happening despite the continued presence of fentanyl, which they say has risen to an all-time high. In the first six months of 2019, officials say fentanyl was present in 93% of opioid-related overdose deaths, up from 89% in 2018.

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“Today’s report affirms that our multi-pronged approach to the opioid epidemic is making a difference,” said Governor Charlie Baker. “Although we’ve made progress, we must continue to focus our law enforcement efforts on getting fentanyl off of our streets and out of our neighborhoods.”

The report also found that the rate of heroin in opioid-related overdose deaths has been declining since 2014, which the percentage of opioid-related overdose deaths where prescription drugs were present has remained stable since 2017. In the second quarter of 2019, about 13% of opioid-related deaths had prescription opioids present in toxicology screens.

“By continuing to expand behavioral health access and provide additional resources for high-risk communities and for the highest risk individuals, we will make steady progress,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders.

According to the press release, other findings of the new opioid report include:

  • In the first six months of 2019, the greatest number of suspected opioid-related incidents treated by Emergency Medical Services (EMS) continued to be among males aged 25-34, accounting for 24 percent of opioid-related incidents with a known age and gender.
  • Males comprise 74 percent of all opioid-related overdose deaths.

In order to address the opioid crisis, the Baker Administration says it has doubled spending and increased capacity by more than 1,200 treatment beds, including more than 800 adult substance use treatment beds at different treatment levels. The administration says, "In addition, the Administration is investing nearly $220 million over five years from the federally approved 1115 Medicaid waiver, which began in fiscal year 2018, to meet the needs of individuals with addictions and/or co-occurring disorders."

The FY20 budget signed by Governor Baker builds on the progress to date by investing $246 million across several state agencies to address substance misuse prevention and treatment.