Opioid-related overdose deaths in Massachusetts appear to have continued increasing above totals that were high enough last year for officials to deem it a public health crisis, according to preliminary statistics released on Oct. 21.
The Department of Public Health’s estimates include opioid deaths for the first six months of 2015, as well as an updated total of confirmed overdose deaths last year.
Officials said the estimated number of deaths for January, February and March of the current year appear to be running higher than in the same period a year ago. The department said figures for April, May and June of 2015 remain preliminary and subject to change as more information is collected.
The state has now confirmed 1,089 opioid overdose deaths in 2014, with that figure expected to rise as the medical examiner’s office works through a backlog of cases. That represents a 63 percent increase over 2012 (668) and a 20 percent increase over cases for 2013 (911).
“We must treat this epidemic for what it is — a public health epidemic,” said Marylou Sudders, secretary of health and human services.
Several proposals aimed at addressing the opioid addiction crisis are pending at the Statehouse, including one from Gov. Charlie Baker.
Top legislative leaders said this week that they’re not sold yet on one part of Baker’s proposal that would let doctors commit a person involuntarily to a drug treatment facility for up to 72 hours if they’re considered an immediate danger to themselves or others.
They also said another part of Baker’s plan — which would initially restrict patients to a three-day supply of painkillers the first time they are prescribed an opioid drug — also needs scrutiny to make sure it doesn’t interfere with individuals with chronic pain.
“This data reminds us that we need to use every tool at our disposal to fight back against this public health crisis, which continues to have a drastic impact in all corners of the commonwealth,” Baker said in a statement.
Baker noted that in June, the state launched an $800,000 TV, online, and social media campaign aimed at heightening awareness among parents about the problem of prescription opioid addiction.
The state plans to follow up with another public education campaign this fall focused on decreasing stigma.
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