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Opioid-related overdose deaths down in Mass.

Fatal overdoses are dropping in Massachusetts, the state Department of Public Health said Wednesday.

In a statement, the DPH said the rate of opioid-related overdose deaths in Massachusetts fell by 5 percent in 2019 from the peak of the crisis in 2016.

According to preliminary data, last year Massachusetts saw 2,023 confirmed and estimated opioid-related overdose deaths, compared to 2,097 in 2016. The 2019 death rate was 29 per 100,000 people, compared to 30.5 per 100,000 in 2016, according to DPH.

"This report demonstrates that focused investments in substance misuse are having an impact, but there is still a lot of work to do to curb the opioid epidemic in our communities,” Governor Charlie Baker said in a statement. “We are encouraged by the expanded use of the prescription monitoring program and continued reduction of new prescriptions, and remain committed to making new investments in prevention, education, treatment, and recovery for individuals and families across the Commonwealth.”

His words were echoed by Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito.


"Behind every statistic in each of these quarterly reports is a person, a family, and a community that has been impacted by this crisis,” Polito said in the statement. "Our administration remains committed to working with all stakeholders to continue to provide the resources and supports needed to address the opioid epidemic across the Commonwealth.”

But the news isn’t all good.

According to DPH, the presence of fentanyl in toxicology reports for opioid-related deaths remained high at 93 percent from January to September of 2019. However, the DPH also noted that prescriptions during the fourth quarter of 2019 for Schedule II opioids stood at just over 225,000 patients, a nearly 42 percent decrease from the first quarter of 2015, according to DPH.

That’s welcome news to Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders.


"This report shows progress on multiple fronts, including a reduction in Schedule II opioid prescriptions,” Sudders said in a statement. "We must continue to invest in and focus on providing the best and most effective services and supports across the spectrum of prevention, intervention, treatment, and recovery.”

Dr. Monica Bharel, commissioner of the DPH, was also encouraged by the data, adding that more works needs to be done to reduce the number of deaths.

“While we are steadily making progress, it is still unacceptable that 2,000 individuals in Massachusetts die from this preventable disease each year,” Bharel said in a statement. "We will continue to use our data-driven approach to focus on high-risk, high need priority populations and disparities to achieve our goal of reducing opioid overdoses and deaths.”

The DPH added that the Baker-Polito administration, along with the Legislature, has doubled spending to tackle the crisis and “increased capacity by more than 1,200 treatment beds, including more than 800 adult substance use treatment beds at different treatment levels. In addition, the Administration is investing nearly $220 million over five years from the federally approved 1115 Medicaid waiver, which began in fiscal year 2018, to meet the needs of individuals with addictions and/or co-occurring disorders.”

Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com.