Opioid Overdose Deaths Hit All-Time High in Massachusetts

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2017/02/20/39742/

Opioid deaths hit an all-time high in Massachusetts in 2016, likely reaching close to 2,000, state health officials said.

State health officials predict the final number for 2016 will include about a 13 percent increase over 2015, using confirmed cases and pending cases that will likely be attributed to opioids

The estimate of 1,979 for 2016 would represent a 216 percent increase since 2013, when 918 confirmed deaths were reported.

While many people when they hear “opioid” think “heroin,” deaths from the painkiller fentanyl are skyrocketing. In 1,374 cases in 2016 where toxicology screens were performed, 1,031 of them — or 75 percent — showed fentanyl in the system of the deceased.

Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, can be obtained as a patch or a lozenge through prescriptions. But the biggest source of abuse is from illegally made fentanyl, not from fentanyl that comes from pharmaceutical companies, state health officials said.

Deaths from heroin are decreasing, but the number of deaths from fentanyl makes up the difference.

State officials note that while the number of deaths continues to rise, the rate of increase seems to be slowing.

“The opioid epidemic continues to threaten individuals and families all across Massachusetts and the country,” Governor Charlie Baker said in a written statement. “Our administration will continue our intense focus on fighting this epidemic by further increasing treatment options and expanding support for law enforcement and their efforts to arrest and convict drug traffickers who prey on vulnerable people, selling them more and more deadly and addictive substances.”

State officials implemented a seven-day limit for opioid prescriptions in March 2016. They are also trying to publicize the warning signs of addiction and are increasing the number of beds at addiction treatment centers.

Emergency medical technicians can in some cases save the life of an overdose victim by administering a drug called naloxone. In 2015, naloxone was administered more than 12,000 times to treat overdoses, state health officials said.

Even that number appears to be skyrocketing. During the first nine months of 2016, the number of uses of naloxone to treat an overdose increased 47 percent over the same period in 2015.