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Study: Fentanyl caused up to 2/3 of opioid-related deaths in Mass.



Associated Press
Thursday, August 04, 2016

BOSTON — Overdose deaths related to the use of the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl are on the rise in Massachusetts, according to preliminary data for the first half of 2016 released by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

Wednesday’s report shows fentanyl-related deaths continuing to climb — with 66 percent of 2016’s confirmed opioid-related overdose deaths showing a toxicology screen that tested positive for fentanyl.

That’s up from 57 percent in 2015.

The report also found that heroin and prescription drug deaths have been decreasing at roughly the same rate that fentanyl has been increasing. Fentanyl is considered 50 times more potent than heroin and can be deadly even in very low doses.

Republican Gov. Charlie Baker said collecting statewide data on fentanyl-related deaths will play a critical role as the state works to combat the opioid crisis.

“While we have completed several reforms and passed landmark legislation, this deadly epidemic is still devastating too many Massachusetts families and treatment, education and prevention will remain a top priority for our administration,” Baker said in a statement accompanying the report.

In March, Baker signed what he called the most comprehensive law in the nation to rein in the state’s opioid addiction scourge, including a seven-day limit on first-time prescriptions for opiate painkillers.

In 2015, lawmakers approved a separate bill criminalizing the trafficking of fentanyl.

The law, which took effect earlier this year, created the state crime of trafficking in fentanyl for amounts greater than 10 grams with punishment of up to 20 years in state prison.

Democratic Attorney General Maura Healey said the law will help police target traffickers who mix fentanyl with heroin — often without the knowledge of the buyer.

“The prevalence of fentanyl increases the lethality of overdoses,” said state Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders.

The report released Wednesday found that during the first half of 2016, the opioid death rate was higher than in the same period a year ago — indicating the opioid abuse crisis is still raging across the state.

The report also found that the number of opioid-related EMS transport incidents related to opioid overdoses nearly doubled between 2013 and 2015.

On average, the report said, EMS responders administered the overdose-reversal drug naloxone — also known as Narcan — 1.4 times per opioid-related incident in the first quarter of 2016.

State health officials said that indicated that more of the drug is needed to reverse each overdose.

Online: www.mass.gov/stopaddiction