Opioid-related ODs climbed in 2015

7% uptick from previous year despite measures against drug crisis

Recorder Staff
Published: 5/3/2016 11:04:22 PM

GREENFIELD — Opioid-related overdose deaths rose for a fifth consecutive year in the state, with more than 1,300 people confirmed to have died from overdoses last year, data released this week shows.

A total of 1,379 people died of opioid-related overdoses in 2015, up 7 percent from the 1,282 lives lost to the drugs in 2014, according to the state Department of Public Health.

Three-quarters of the victims were male, more than half of them were between the ages of 25 and 44, and they were overwhelmingly white, demographic data shows. Four percent were black, 9 percent were Hispanic and 2 percent were of other, unspecified races.

In Franklin County, 16 people were confirmed to have died due to opioid overdoses last year. Statewide, 22.6 people died for every 100,000 residents. For Franklin County that rate was just under the average at 22.4 per 100,000.

With Athol, which falls under the jurisdiction of the Northwestern District Attorney’s Office, included, the rate per 100,000 is 25.3.

For the first time, data included information on fentanyl, a powerful opioid considered to be 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine that has become more common on the street. More than half of the confirmed opioid-related overdose deaths with a toxicology screen in 2015 had a positive screen for the drug.

“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,” said Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders. “We will continue to work on prevention and intervention efforts when it comes to heroin and other opioids to eradicate this epidemic.”

Despite that, opioid prescription trends are down in Franklin County. According to the DPH’s Prescription Monitoring Program, 6.3 percent of Franklin County residents received Schedule II Opioid prescriptions in the four months of 2016, down from 7.6 percent in the last quarter of 2015.

Also new for this quarter, the department also released data tracking suspected opioid-related ambulance transports: 11,887 statewide in 2015.

That data also shows that Narcan, an overdose-reversal medication now commonly being carried by emergency responders and available for use at home, was deployed more than 12,000 times.

“We must treat this epidemic like the illness it is, without stigma,” said Dr. Monica Bharel, the department’s commissioner in a statement Monday. “Transparent data is a crucial step in being able to identify, triage, and stem the current trends.”

The state government has been working to address the growing addiction crisis in Massachusetts in recent years. Early this year, Gov. Charlie Baker signed major opioid prevention legislation aimed at curbing overprescription, recognizing substance abuse, and preventing it before it begins.

The state Legislature also voted to criminalize fentanyl trafficking in February.

You can reach Tom Relihan at:


or 413-772-0261, ext. 264

On Twitter: @RecorderTom


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