Policy Issue

Policy Watch: Latest Opioid Overdose Data Show Positive Trends for the Region

January 17, 2023

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) released the latest opioid statistics in mid-December 2022. While the rate of opioid-related overdose deaths among Massachusetts residents increased from 2020 to 2021 statewide, DPH reports a projected 1.5% decrease in total deaths for the first nine months of 2022 compared to the first nine months of 2021.

The yearly death rate among Massachusetts residents has remained elevated since 2016. Among overdose deaths with toxicology reports available, fentanyl is present in over 90% and cocaine is present in over half. New in toxicology reports in 2022 was the presence of a veterinary sedative known as xylazine; since early summer it has been present in 5% of reports, and while uncommon, the presence of the substance is concerning because it requires additional treatment from first responders beyond Naloxone.

After an increase in deaths among Black non-Hispanic males in 2020, the rate of deaths among this group has decreased slightly for 2021 though not yet level with 2019 and earlier. The rate of deaths among American Indian non-Hispanic males increased about 65% while the rate of deaths among their female counterparts decreased about 34% from 2020 to 2021.

Among both males and females, rates of opioid-related overdose deaths among the White non-Hispanic, Black non-Hispanic, and Hispanic populations were comparable, between 36-39 deaths per 100,000 people.

Many MetroWest communities are on track to have fewer total opioid-related EMS incidents in 2022 than in 2021, which follows the statewide trend. There were far fewer opioid-related overdose deaths of Framingham residents in 2021 than in the three years preceding; Framingham is one of only two communities across the state highlighted for a remarkable decrease. Overall in MetroWest communities in 2021, fewer lives were lost to opioid-related overdose deaths compared to the three years prior, which is in contrast to the state trend.

DPH opioid data
can be accessed on the DPH website.

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