BOSTON – More than five people per day died from confirmed or estimated opioid-related overdoses over the first nine months of this year, according to numbers released Friday morning by state public health officials.
There were 1,518 opioid deaths between Jan. 1 and Sept. 30, compared to 1,538 deaths over the same period in 2017, the Department of Public Health said. The epidemic has raged on despite a wide range of new laws and continuing government responses and public attention to the problem.
“The opioid epidemic, fueled by an all-time high level of fentanyl, remains a tragic public health crisis responsible for taking too many lives in Massachusetts,” Gov. Charlie Baker said in a statement. While saying “there is much work left for all of us to do,” Baker said the state’s monitoring program appeared to be helping to curb prescription overdose deaths.
About 246,000 individuals in Massachusetts received prescriptions for Schedule II opioids in the third quarter of this year, a 37 percent decline from the first quarter of 2018.
Heroin-related deaths are falling while overdose deaths involving fentanyl are soaring. In the second quarter of 2018, heroin or likely heroin was present in 37 percent of opioid overdose deaths, compared to 71 percent in 2014.
“While there are very modest signs of progress, we work to provide continuous treatment for this chronic disease and to identify interventions for the highest risk populations,” Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders said. “We will continue to expand access to treatment and recovery services in the highest impacted communities.”
Public health officials reported that while the overall opioid overdose death rate declined in 2017, it rose by 44 percent for non-Hispanic black males.
“There is an increase in opioid-related overdoes deaths among black males and we are focusing our efforts on tailoring our services to the needs of these communities,” Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel said in a statement. “We are also targeting public awareness campaigns to black communities in the Commonwealth, including a campaign to raise awareness about the importance of carrying naloxone, the opioid reversal medication.”