Opioid-related Overdose Deaths Continue to Fall in Massachusetts

BOSTON — Opioid-related overdose deaths in Massachusetts continued a steady decline in the first three months of the year, according to the latest report of opioid-related overdose deaths released by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH).

In the first three months of 2020, preliminary data show there were 467 confirmed and estimated opioid-related overdose deaths, an estimated 28 fewer deaths compared to the first three months of 2019, representing a 5.7% decline. That trajectory underscores the Commonwealth’s ongoing commitment to stem the opioid overdose epidemic at an unprecedented time in which it is intersecting with the COVID-19 pandemic.

The March figures included in this latest quarterly report are the first this year to overlap with the state-of-emergency declaration and stay-at-home advisory put in place due to coronavirus.

“As the COVID-19 pandemic evolves, we have taken action to ensure that crucial substance-use-disorder treatment and recovery systems remain available in the ongoing fight against opioid addiction,” Gov. Charlie Baker said. “While we remain encouraged that opioid-related overdose deaths continue to decline from their peak four years ago, we will continue to carefully consider and monitor any impact the social-isolation practices that are helping us fight the virus may have on the battle against opioid addiction.”

During the pandemic, DPH has worked to ensure that substance-use treatment centers have the supplies they need and are able to meet the needs of clients. For example, DPH provided more than 13,000 naloxone kits and more than 1,000 survival kits that include naloxone and local resources to help reduce the risk of accidental opioid-related overdose fatality among high-risk populations, including people recently released from incarceration. DPH also has worked to expand access to telemedicine in licensed facilities, providing counseling, group-support services, and referrals to treatment.

“From the earliest days of the pandemic, we have worked quickly to implement innovative solutions that keep people struggling with substance use connected to the treatment and recovery services they need,” Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Marylou Sudders said. “Moving forward, we must remain vigilant in our efforts to reduce the impact of the opioid epidemic.”

Added Public Health Commissioner Dr. Monica Bharel, “COVID-19 is demanding a great deal of our focus and attention, but we know the opioid epidemic has not gone away. Creative and aggressive measures by DPH have ensured uninterrupted treatment and support systems in the midst of a pandemic, including access to medication for our priority populations and those at highest risk.”