Governor says it is too soon to declare "victory" despite 2017 drop in opioid deaths


The number of opioid-related overdose deaths in Massachusetts fell an estimated 8.3 percent from 2016 to 2017, marking the first year-over-year decline in several years, the Department of Public Health announced Wednesday, according to the State House News Service. A total of 1,977 people died of suspected or confirmed opioid overdoses in 2017, accounting for 178 fewer deaths than the 2,155 logged the previous year. From 2015 to 2016, the opioid overdose death rate increased 22 percent.

"It is a promising trend that for the first time last year we saw overdose deaths actually decrease," Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders said in a statement. "Today's report is a welcome development, however, there is so much more work to do to increase access to treatment - particularly for individuals who are Hispanic."

According to the DPH report, the rate of confirmed opioid-related overdose deaths for Hispanics doubled over a three-year period, from 15.6 deaths per 100,000 people in 2014 to 31.4 in 2016. A new state information campaign, which includes Spanish-language TV ads, targets Latino parents of teens in hopes of raising awareness about prescription opioid addiction and helping them learn to talk to their kids about the dangers of opioid misuse, the DPH said.

Since 2013, there has been an increasing trend both in the percentage of opioid-related emergency medical service calls and in EMS calls involving administration of the overdose reversal drug naloxone, according to DPH data released Wednesday. The Department of Public Health's data on EMS incidents involving the administration of naloxone, also known as Narcan, show the number of such calls more than doubled from the 8,035 reported in 2013 to 18,355 in 2016.

In the first three quarters of 2017, there were 13,785 EMS incidents involving naloxone, down slightly from the 13,917 in the same period of 2016, according to the DPH data. A Gov. Charlie Baker bill that aims to create new pathways for access to addition treatment, enable more schools to educate young people on the risks of opioids and more directly align the health care system with the needs of those struggling with addiction is before the Joint Committee on Mental Health, Substance Use and Recovery.

Baker told reporters Wednesday he would "not declare victory" over opioid addiction "until we get to the point where we don't have multiple people dying every day here in the commonwealth of an overdose."

"Let's face it, there's still far too many people dealing with this horrible addiction and this epidemic and losing their lives to it, but at least after 15 years of nothing but really bad news, at least we did see a reduction," Baker said. "Significant reduction in prescriptions, a drop in the number of people who died, and some leveling off in overdoses, and I think that does speak to many of our initiatives around prescription monitoring, provider education, prescriber education and more significant availability of Narcan and a series of other initiatives including eleven hundred more treatment beds and a big increase in state support for treatment generally, but we still have a long way to go on this one."