Report Shows Continued Severity of the Opioid Crisis

Opioid-related deaths rose 8 percent between 2014 and 2015.

A new report from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) offers a striking look at the continued severity of the state’s opioid crisis.

According to the DPH’s latest quarterly snapshot, the number of fatal opioid overdoses in Massachusetts rose 8 percent between 2014 and 2015, with 1,379 confirmed deaths last year; another 147 are suspected. That’s way up from the 911 deaths in 2013—and way, way up from the 338 deaths in 2000—illustrating the concerning speed at which the crisis is gathering steam.

The report also lists opioid overdose deaths by town or city. In 2015, it says, Boston saw 126 deaths, followed by Worcester with 57, Lowell with 47, and New Bedford with 46.

The problem doesn’t end with 2015, though. Month-by-month data shows as many as 148 deaths in March 2016, though that number is still based largely on estimates.

Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid used to treat extreme pain, is a growing presence in the opioid epidemic. Heroin sold in the state is increasingly being cut with fentanyl, to the point that, according to the DPH report, 754 of the 1,319 people who underwent toxicology testing in 2015 after dying of opioid-related causes tested positive for fentanyl. The drug is under increased scrutiny from law enforcement and substance abuse experts.

“The first-time inclusion of data on fentanyl allows us to have a more honest and transparent analysis of the rising trend of opioid-related deaths that have inundated the Commonwealth in recent years,” Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders said in a statement.