New Report: Opioid Overdose Deaths Decline Despite Increasing Presence of Fentanyl

(File photograph.)

New data indicate Massachusetts has made some progress in beating back the tide of opioid overdose deaths with fatal overdoses declining 5% since 2016.

Figures, however, show fentanyl was present in 93.2% of confirmed opioid overdose deaths in 2019, while fentanyl was present 75.6% of the time in 2016. Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel said the state nonetheless continues to lose too many people to overdoses. The latest statistics, released Wednesday, show a total of 2,023 confirmed and estimated opioid-related overdose deaths in 2019, down from 2,031 in 2018.

“Thanks to our public health interventions, we’ve flattened the death rate instead of watching it climb as fentanyl continues to increase in our communities,” Bharel said.

Confirmed opioid overdose deaths in Massachusetts peaked in 2016 at 2,097, according to the state Department of Public Health. That year, the overdose death rate was 30.5 per 100,000 residents. The agency estimates a death rate of 29 per 100,000 residents in 2019.

In 2018, the last year for which totals by community were broken out, Haverhill had 25 overdose deaths compared with a peak of 38 deaths in 2016. Methuen had 18 deaths compared with a peak of 20 in 2017, while North Andover has one death compared with four in 2017.

“If we look at 2016 as the peak, we see a stabilization since then,” Bharel said. “This decrease is despite the growing presence of fentanyl, which our data shows is a driver of opioid-related death.”

In the first nine months of 2019, fentanyl was present in 93.2 percent of confirmed opioid overdose deaths where a toxicology screen occurred, according to the DPH. That rate was 75.6 percent in 2016.

(WHAV News staff contributed local data to this report.)

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