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First Quarterly Opioid Report Shows Signs of Progress

BOSTON — The Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) recently released its first quarterly opioid report of 2017, which shows an increase in opioid-related overdose deaths attributed to fentanyl and declines in the presence of heroin and prescription opioids in opioid-related deaths.

There are also signs of progress in fighting the opioid epidemic, as the increase in death rates appears to have slowed. Based on estimated numbers, in 2014 there was a 40% increase in the opioid-related overdose death rate from the prior year, in 2015 there was a 31% increase, and in 2016 there was a 16% increase.

“This enhanced level of data collection is a critical resource to help the administration, public-safety officials, and healthcare professionals understand the destructive impact of opioid-related overdoses in every corner of the Commonwealth,” said Gov. Charlie Baker. “We will continue to monitor trends and respond through targeted prevention, treatment, and recovery services to break the negative momentum of this crisis.”

Among the report’s findings:

• The rate of heroin or likely heroin present in opioid-related deaths continues to decline, from a high of about 74% in the second quarter of 2014 to a low of about 33% in the fourth quarter of 2016;

• The rate of fentanyl present in opioid-related deaths reached 77.5% in the second quarter of 2016, from a low of 18% in the third quarter of 2014;

• In the fourth quarter of 2016, prescription opioids were present in 9% of opioid-related overdose deaths where a toxicology result was available. In the first quarter of 2014, when DPH began tracking such data, prescription opioids were present in 26% of overdose deaths with a toxicology result; and

• In the first quarter of 2017, there were approximately 650,000 Schedule II opioid prescriptions reported to the Massachusetts Prescription Monitoring Program, a 23% decline from the first quarter of 2015 and a 13% decline from the first quarter of 2016.

“We continue to invest new resources to strengthen services and to underscore our commitment to an intensive focus on this crisis,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders. “Commencing in FY18, MassHealth will provide additional funding to expand long-term, residential treatment beds in Massachusetts as a result of our recently negotiated federal waiver.”

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