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Opioid Deaths Trending Downward Through First Half of 2017

New England Towns Struggle With Opioid And Heroin Epidemic
Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON — The number of opioid-related deaths in Massachusetts has increased each year since 2010, but new figures from the first half of this year offer some signs of motion in the opposite direction.

Fifty-three fewer people died of opioid overdoses in the first six months of 2017 than over the same time period last year, according to state data released Tuesday.

The latest quarterly report on opioid-related deaths in Massachusetts tracked 978 confirmed and estimated opioid deaths from January through June, a 5 percent decrease from the 1,031 in the first half of 2016.

A year ago, the Department of Public Health reported that the opioid death rate was higher for the first six months of 2016 than in the first half of the previous year.

Overall, there were 1,990 confirmed opioid-related deaths in 2016 and 1,670 in 2015, according to the DPH’s updated data.

The report said the rate of increase in opioid-related deaths is slowing year-to-year, climbing 40 percent from 2013 to 2014, 31 percent from 2014 to 2015 and 17 percent from 2015 to 2016.

“The opioid and heroin epidemic has brought tragedy to far too many families, and while the Commonwealth has a lot of work to do there are some signs of progress in this report,” Gov. Charlie Baker said in a statement. “Our administration has improved data collection to better understand the trajectory of this public health crisis, and will keep using and developing tools to fight the epidemic at every level and save more lives.”

The prevalence of the synthetic opioid fentanyl in overdose deaths where a toxicology screening occurred continued to rise, hitting 81 percent in the first quarter of 2017, according to the report.

The report said the majority of opioid deaths continue to occur among white residents, accounting for 82 percent of the total.

“However, the burden of opioid-related deaths among Hispanic residents increased significantly between 2015 and 2016,” the DPH said in a press release, which said the death rate among Hispanics increased by 54 percent in those years.

Of the 610 confirmed opioid-related deaths in the first half of 2017, 500 were white residents, 57 were Hispanic, 35 were black, four were Asian, and the race of 14 was listed as other or unknown. Most of those who died of confirmed opioid overdoses this year were male — 460 people –, while 150 were women.

A separate analysis released by the DPH last week found that non-fatal overdoses increased by approximately 200 percent between 2011 and 2015, and more than 4 percent of Massachusetts residents aged 11 and up had an opioid use disorder in 2015.

–By Katie Lannan, State House News Service

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