Massachusetts Released New Data On Opioid Overdose Deaths

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The Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) today released new data showing a smaller increase in fatal opioid overdoses in 2007 — an improvement over previous years when the Bay State experienced double digit increases in deadly OD’s.

Preliminary findings indicate that the number of Massachusetts residents who died of fatal overdoses from use of opioids such as heroin and oxycontin rose just 2.7% in 2007, a much smaller increase than observed in 2005 and 2006 when the state saw increases of 12.8% and 18.9% respectively.

State officials said that there were still an unacceptable number of overdose deaths, but said they were cautiously optimistic their approach in addressing the troubling trend was gaining traction.

“There are still too many of our residents dying because of their misuse or addiction to opiates. However, it is important to take stock to ensure that our collective efforts are working. I am hopeful these numbers show that those efforts are having an impact,” said DPH Commissioner John Auerbach.

Commissioner said that reducing overdose deaths is always challenging, but that maintaining a commitment to prevention and treatment is the best way to reverse the negative trend in opiate OD deaths.

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“We know that the best way to reduce substance abuse is to support access to prevention and treatment programs,” he said. “Individuals, families and communities all benefit from the availability of these lifesaving programs.”

In the past several years, Massachusetts has invested millions to expand access to a number of innovative programs to prevent and treat substance abuse, particularly involving opioids.

New Overdose Prevention Program Showing Signs of Success

In addition to more traditional prevention and treatment efforts, state officials say they are very pleased with the success so far of a groundbreaking opioid overdose prevention program launched last January. The program, which provides a life-saving overdose prevention medication known as Narcan (naloxone) to drug treatment staff, family, friends and people at risk for opiate overdose, has resulted in more than 170 overdose reversals since it was launched early this year.

Narcan is an emergency medication that counteracts the effects of an opiate-related overdose. It is delivered as a spray into the nasal passage of someone who has overdosed. The medication is safe, easy to administer, has no side effects or potential for abuse. More than 1300 residents have been trained in the use of Narcan in six locations throughout the state taking part in the program.

“Opiate addiction is a chronic, relapsing condition that affects many people in Massachusetts. We believe that this overdose prevention program is saving lives. A critical component of this initiative is that it gives us another opportunity to convince people to enter drug treatment, which is one of our primary goals,” said DPH Bureau of Substance Abuse Services Michael Botticelli.

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