The Massachusetts Department of Public Health on May 10 released the latest data on the opioid crisis in Massachusetts. According to DPH, there were a total of 1,933 confirmed deaths related to opioids in 2016. So far in 2017, from January through March, there have been 172 confirmed opioid overdose deaths and DPH estimates that there will be an additional 242 to 307 fatalities attributable to opioids over the three-month period. That means that to date, 2017 is similar to, but not worse, than 2016.
While estimating death rates and projecting future fatalities from opioids may appear to be a macabre public health exercise, the statistics are needed to gauge the success or failure of the commonwealth’s concerted effort to fight the opioid problem. Hospitals have adopted new protocols on how they dispense opioids, state government has re-engineered its focus on the issue, and law enforcement, the justice system, schools, local community coalitions – among many other institutions – all have enhanced their opioid-fighting efforts. This year’s leveling out of the data, while still troubling, may indicate a small glimmer of hope that the combined efforts are working.