“My wall is covered in obituaries. It could be wallpaper if this doesn’t get better,” said Joanne Peterson, executive director of Learn to Cope, a nonprofit support network for families, while referring to the rising opioid overdose deaths.
On Jan. 26, 2017, the Massachusetts State Police superintendent, Colonel Richard D. McKeon, expressed his concern over the rising deaths due to opioid overdoses, saying that fentanyl might be boosting the effects of heroin, which is why it has become so popular even among those who used heroin. As per McKeon, fentanyl can easily be manufactured and can exceed heroin in terms of production, making it cheaper for drug dealers and traffickers.
As per the Massachusetts State Police, of the 877 deaths reported in the state due to suspected fentanyl overdose, in 2016, 77 percent of the victims were men aged 37 years. The fatalities accounted for more than 20 percent of the deaths investigated last year by the state troopers. Meanwhile, they also looked into 756 opioid overdose deaths that occurred in 2015. However, a more detailed report is expected in February 2017 when the state public health officials will announce opioid-related fatalities recorded during the last three months of 2016.
Thus, with the influx of illegal fentanyl in Massachusetts, deaths caused due to opioid overdoses also continued to surge across the state. The state confirmed 1,005 opioid overdose deaths in the first nine months of 2016 as compared to nearly 1,200 confirmed overdose deaths in the first nine months of 2015. In addition, the state confirmed 1,574 fatalities caused due to opioid overdose in 2015. According to Peterson, fatalities resulting from opioid overdoses have steadily increased over the last 12 years. She also admitted that she never saw a year worse than 2016.
As per a report released by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, the number of confirmed cases of unintentional opioid overdose deaths in Massachusetts in 2015 represented a 20 percent increase over 2014. The report also stated that cases of unintentional opioid overdose deaths in the state in 2014 represented a 43 percent increase over similar cases in 2013. According to the report, in 2015, the estimated rate of unintentional opioid overdose deaths was 25.8 deaths per 100,000 residents that represented a 32 percent increase from 19.5 deaths per 100,000 residents in 2014.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2015, the rate of opioid overdose deaths in Massachusetts was the sixth highest in the country. As per the CDC, opioid overdose quadrupled since 1999 and opioids (legal and illegal) were responsible for 33,091 deaths in 2015. Moreover, Massachusetts was among the states with the most significant increases in opioid overdoses, from 2014 to 2015. The state recorded 1,724 opioid overdose deaths in 2015.
In Boston, as compared to 68 referrals in 2015, the Emergency Medical Services sent the state medical examiner to 57 suspected opioid overdose cases between Jan. 1, 2016, and Dec. 27, 2016. In Worcester, officials recorded 53 opioid overdose deaths in 2016, which was an increase from 43 in 2015. As per Pittsfield police, there were 13 confirmed heroin deaths and two or three other deaths due to consumption of opioids and other drugs. While Massachusetts saw an increase in opioid-related overdose deaths by 350 percent since 2000, the trend is expected to continue even in 2017, said the state health officials.
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