Fatal overdoses in Massachusetts dropped by over 10%, CDC says

Local News

The state attributed the drop to its harm reduction programs, like distributing naloxone to the community.

John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

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

Overdose fatalities decreased from about 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 remained the most deadly threat to residents of Massachusetts, but deaths involving opioids decreased significantly from December of 2022, according to the CDC. Deaths caused by cocaine and methadone increased slightly, data show.

The state’s Department of Public Health (DPH) said it continues to invest in harm reduction programs like expanding access to naloxone, fentanyl test trips, and sterile consumption supplies. Just in 2023, more than 262,100 naloxone doses were distributed through community-level naloxone distribution programs and more than 9,100 overdoses were reversed using the medication, DPH said. 

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

Communities of color facing outsized impact

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

In 2022, overdoses rose by about 2.5%, with Black, non-Hispanic people making up the largest increase, according to DHP data.

To combat inequity, the state plans to continue operating peer recovery support centers and funding Mobile Addiction Service programs in Brockton and Lowell, which provide medical care and harm reduction services to individuals at high risk of overdose.

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

2023 is the first time annual opioid deaths have decreased in the state since 2019. The latest figure is still an increase of about 7.9% when compared to 2019, according to CDC data. 

This is the eighth year the Commonwealth will surpass 2,000 opioid overdose deaths per year. It surpassed the figure for the first time in 2016. 

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

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