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Fatal overdoses in Massachusetts decreased by more than 10%, CDC says

Local News

The state attributed the decline to its harm reduction programs, such as distributing naloxone to the community.

John Tumacki/Globe Staff

Fatal opioid overdose deaths in Massachusetts decreased by more than 10% in 2023, marking the first annual decrease in four years, according to preliminary data from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Overdose deaths decreased from approximately 2,647 in 2022 to 2,373 reported between December 2022 and December 2023. Nationally, reported deaths decreased by 5.1%.

Opioids like fentanyl and morphine remain the deadliest threat to Massachusetts residents, but opioid-related deaths have decreased significantly compared to December 2022, according to the CDC. Deaths caused by cocaine and methadone increased slightly, the data showed.

The state Department of Public Health (DPH) said it continues to invest in harm reduction programs, such as expanding access to naloxone, fentanyl testing and sterile consumer supplies. In 2023 alone, more than 262,100 doses of naloxone were distributed through community-level naloxone distribution programs and more than 9,100 overdoses were reversed using the drug, DPH said.

Naloxone, also known by the brand name Narcan, binds to opioid receptors and quickly reverses the effects of other opioids. In March 2023, the United States Food and Drug Administration approved the over-the-counter use of Narcan nasal spray.

Communities of color face outsized impact

Despite the overall decrease in deaths, DPH said more needs to be done to protect communities of color, who bear the brunt of fatal overdoses.

In 2022, overdoses increased by about 2.5%, with non-Hispanic Black people accounting for the largest increase, according to DHP data.

To address inequities, the state plans to continue operating peer recovery support centers and funding mobile addiction services programs in Brockton and Lowell, which provide medical care and rehabilitation services. harm reduction to those at high risk of overdose.

In March, the Healey-Driscoll administration also launched a drug prevention grant program, targeting historically underserved communities.

2023 is the first time annual opioid-related deaths have declined in the state since 2019. The latest figure still represents an increase of about 7.9% from 2019, according to CDC data.

This is the eighth year the Commonwealth has exceeded 2,000 opioid overdose deaths per year. This figure was exceeded for the first time in 2016.

All New England states saw a decline in fatal overdoses in 2023. In Connecticut, deaths fell 10%; New Hampshire by 13%; Maine 16%; Vermont by 8%; and Rhode Island by 15%.

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