Opioid overdoses continued to claim the lives of hundreds of Massachusetts residents in 2021. In the first nine months of this year 1,613 residents have died, a 1 percent increase over the same period in 2020, according to data released Wednesday by the state Department of Public Health.
The semiannual report suggests the crisis may be stabilizing after a 5 percent spike in deaths in 2020, when the effects of the pandemic erased the state’s progress in combating illicit opioid use. The annual number of opioid-related deaths peaked at 2,110 in 2016, declined slightly over the next three years, and rose to 2,106 in 2020.
Information gathered from emergency medical services providers around the state also point to a leveling-off. The percentage of EMS trips that were related to opioid use, including nonfatal overdoses, changed little from June 2019 to June 2021, hovering at just over 2 percent.
As in the past, Hispanic and Black people were disproportionately affected. Updated 2020 data confirm the startling surge in opioid-related deaths among Black men, which increased from 32.6 per 100,000 in 2019 to 57.1 per 100,000 in 2020. Among Black women, deaths increased from 12.3 per 100,000 to 16.2. Hispanic residents continue to have the highest rate of opioid-related deaths, at 59.8 per 100,000 among men and 13.8 per 100,000 among women.
But while the death toll in Massachusetts remains high, the pandemic-related increase was among the smallest nationwide. Throughout the United States, overdose deaths rose 31 percent from March 2020 to March 2021, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In a statement, Governor Charlie Baker noted that since 2015, the state has “more than doubled spending on substance misuse programs across state government, boosted the number of treatment beds, and signed two landmark laws to respond to this public health crisis.”