Opioid deaths continued to climb in 2016

State report projects increase by as much as 24% over 2015

STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

THE NUMBER OF PEOPLE DYING from opioid overdoses in Massachusetts each year continues to climb, according to a new state report projecting an estimated increase of between 13 and 24 percent from 2015 to 2016.

A total of 1,465 people died of unintentional opioid overdoses in 2016, with another 469 to 562 suspected opioid-related deaths, according to the Department of Public Health’s quarterly overdose report released Friday.

There were 1,579 opioid overdose deaths in 2015 and 1,321 in 2014, according to updated DPH figures.

Gov. Charlie Baker said in a statement that his 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.”

Rates of deaths involving fentanyl — a synthetic opioid prescribed for pain treatment that is also illicitly produced for abuse — have grown at approximately the same rate that heroin death numbers have fallen, the report said. It said heroin or “likely heroin” was present in roughly half of opioid-related deaths with toxicology screens in the third quarter of 2016.

The report found that fentanyl was present in 75 percent of the 1,374 opioid deaths in 2016 for which toxicology screens were available.

Emergency medical service incidents involving the overdose rescue drug naloxone rose 47 percent in the first three quarters of 2016 compared to the same time period in 2015, according to the report.

Emergency medical personnel administered naloxone, also known by the brand name Narcan, 12,000 times in 2015. Opioid-related EMS transports were reported in 280 of the state’s 351 municipalities during the first three quarters of 2016.

The report said that though opioid deaths continue to increase year to year, the overall rate of increase has declined since hitting 44 percent from 2013 to 2014. The estimated increase rate from 2015 to 2016 is 13 percent to 24 percent, after a 21 percent increase in 2014 to 2015.

Meet the Author

Katie Lannan

Reporter, State House News Service
Beacon Hill officials have taken several steps in recent years aimed at stemming the tide of opioid addiction and deaths, including the institution of a seven-day limit on new opioid prescriptions, requirements for doctors to use an updated prescription monitoring program, collaboration with medical schools on prescriber education, and the addition of more than 500 substance use treatment beds since January 2015.

The number of prescriptions issued for schedule II and schedule III opioids dropped 15 percent from 2015 to 2016, the report said.