Massachusetts Releases 2007 Death Report

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People in Massachusetts are living longer than ever before, the number of heart disease deaths continued to decline and, for the second year in a row, cancer was the leading cause of death for Bay State residents. These and other findings are part of the 2007 report on deaths in Commonwealth that was released today by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH).

“Every year, this report offers us the opportunity to see where we are making progress in our efforts to treat and prevent the illnesses and injuries that cause deaths in our state,” said DPH Commissioner John Auerbach. “But, more importantly, it also helps to focus our attention on the areas where we can improve. This year’s report is a snapshot of both progress and challenges with regard to the public health of our residents.”

Trends for Leading Causes of Death Show Improvement, But Disparities Persist

Overall death rates for cancer, heart disease, stroke and chronic lower respiratory diseases have all declined between 13 and 31 percent in Massachusetts between 2000 and 2007. The breast cancer death rate for women in Massachusetts fell by 13 percent from 2006 to 2007 to their lowest level ever recorded.

However, the improvements in some mortality rates are not equally distributed among Massachusetts residents. The death rate for black Massachusetts residents for diabetes, nephritis and prostate cancer was more than two times that of white residents in 2007, and 18 times higher for homicide. Furthermore, for many of the top causes of death, black and Hispanic residents die at earlier ages than white residents.

Diabetes Deaths Decline in the Face of Rising Prevalence of Diabetes

While death rates from diabetes have declined over the years, diabetes-related illnesses still accounted for nearly 4,000 deaths in Massachusetts in 2007. Health officials warn that growing diabetes rates among the Commonwealth’s residents — particularly among younger people — are an additional indicator of the toll that the disease is taking on Massachusetts residents and the health care system.

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“The reduction in the number of diabetes-related deaths may be due to improvements in treating and managing the disease, along with greater access to care in Massachusetts,” said Dr. Lauren Smith, DPH Medical Director.& “Our success in helping people live longer with diabetes should be tempered by what we see on the horizon with respect to new cases, and should cause us to redouble our diabetes prevention strategies.”

Overweight and obesity are leading risk factors for diabetes, and in Massachusetts more than half of all adults and one-third of high school and middle school students are either overweight or obese. In January, the Patrick Administration launched Mass In Motion, the most comprehensive plan to date to improve eating and physical activity habits of Massachusetts residents.

After Two Years of Double Digit Increases, Opiate Overdose Deaths Held Steady

In 2005 and 2006, Massachusetts experienced significant increases in the number of fatal opiate overdoses with increases of 12.8 percent and 18.9 percent, respectively. However, in 2007, opiate OD deaths remained steady with no increase from the year before. Six hundred and thirty-seven Massachusetts residents died of opiate overdoses in 2006 and 2007, respectively.

“There are still too many people dying of opiate overdoses, but we’re hopeful that our significant investment in treatment and prevention programs is having an impact,” said Michael Botticelli, DPH Director of Substance Abuse Services. The Patrick Administration and the Legislature have provided millions of dollars in recent years to expand access to a number of programs that prevent and treat substance abuse, particularly abuse and misuse of opiates like heroin and oxycontin.

Additionally, DPH launched a groundbreaking opiate overdose prevention program in January 2008 that has resulted in a reported 250 overdose reversals since it was launched.

After a One Year Drop, Suicide Among Young Males Up in 2007

After years of decline, the suicide rate among Massachusetts residents has been level since 2002. An eight percent decline in suicide deaths among Bay State women was more than offset by a 28% increase in among males ages 25-44 during 2007 (159 deaths in 2007 vs. 118 in 2006 and 153 in 2005). Health researchers found that the increase occurred primarily among white males, ages 25-44. DPH staff will perform a more thorough analysis of these deaths to determine any variables contributing to the increased number of suicides in this age group in 2007.

Starting in 2008, suicide prevention efforts have received a significant boost in resources. Funding for prevention activities at DPH have increased by $2.5 million. That funding has allowed the Patrick Administration to support innovative initiatives like the Statewide Advocacy for Veterans’ Empowerment (SAVE) program. The SAVE program, launched in February 2008 by the Department of Veterans’ Services and DPH, is an early intervention and suicide prevention program for Massachusetts veterans.

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