Massachusetts remains on the sidelines of an opiate crisis with more than 1,500 deaths in the first nine months of 2018, most closely linked to the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl, according to data released by the new state on Friday.
The latest quarterly report from the Department of Public Health about opiate-related deaths also pointed to some encouraging tendencies, including a slight decline in overdose deaths compared to last year and a steady reduction in the number of prescriptions written by doctors for opioid analgesics.
The report said there were 1,518 deaths from opiate-related overdose until September this year, a number that includes deaths confirmed by causes of overdose and others that are expected in the list once an official determination is released. In 2017, the state reported 1,538 deaths from confirmed and estimated overdose.
Although there were fewer deaths this year, the state does not seem to be at a pace to combine the 4 percent decline that occurred between 2016 and 2017.
Fentanyl was present in 90 percent of toxicological reports on opiates deaths during the second quarter of the current year, a figure that tripled since 2014, the report reported. In contrast, the heroin, present in more than 70 percent of opiate-related deaths that year, dropped to 37 percent in the April-June period of the current year.
"The opioid epidemic, fueled by a high level of full-time fentanyl, remains a tragic public health crisis responsible for too many lives in Massachusetts," said Republican Governor Charlie Baker in a statement that accompanies the report. "Although there is a lot of work for us all, we encourage deaths due to overdose and opiate reactions to continue to decline as the Commonwealth Prescription Monitoring Program increases."
The legislation signed by Baker in 2016 was aimed at the excessive or unnecessary use of painkillers that could lead to opioid dependence limiting opioid recipes for the first time to a 7-day supply and allowing patients to require pharmacies to cover less than the full prescription of an opioid
About 547,000 List II opiate recipes were reported to the monitoring program during the third quarter of this year, a decrease of 35% from 2015, according to the report. Prescription medications were present in 17 percent of the toxicological reports on deaths due to overdose in the second quarter of 2018.
After signing a bill earlier this year that closed a state law breakthrough that hampered the accusation of offenses related to fentanyl, Baker recently presented a $ 5 million legislation to help police agencies intensify and coordinate the efforts of fentanyl intervention.
In addition, state officials said the number of deaths from overdose of opiates among black men increased by 44 percent in 2017, although deaths declined between the total population.
"We are also directing public awareness campaigns to black communities in (Massachusetts), including a campaign to raise awareness of the importance of taking naloxone, opiate reversal medication," Dr. Monica Bharel, State Public Health Commissioner.
A study published earlier this week by the Massachusetts Contributing Foundation, which details the economic impact of the opiate crisis, has signaled billions of dollars in productivity lost as a result of employees whose job performance was compromised or could not work at all because of addiction to opiates. The report also kept the annual costs of healthcare related to the epidemic, both public and private, at 4,500 million dollars, while also pointing out that this figure is most likely underestimated.