As the many-headed beast of opioid addiction continued to ravage Massachusetts, another grim statistic: 684 overdose deaths in the first half of 2015.
The number from the Department of Public Health, released Wednesday, put the state on pace to see deaths mirroring last year’s figure: 1,089 deaths in 2014, 87 of them in Boston (that number could still be revised upward by as many as 199 deaths by the state’s Medical Examiner).
The most recent data shows an increase in deaths by nearly 7 percent over the same period last year.
"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," Gov. Charlie Baker said in a statement. "Our proposed legislation introduces much-needed reforms to create new pathways to treatment and help us fight the deadly opioid epidemic.”
Baker last Thursday debuted an opioid-focused legislative package which, among other measures, would restrict the number of opioid pain pills doctors can prescribe and provide new ways to commit an addict to treatment against their will.
The release of the overdose death data this week came before Baker planned to meet with law enforcement officials to discuss the state’s opioid crisis Thursday afternoon.
Opioid abuse had emerged as a priority of Baker’s administration, spurring the formation of an opioid working group which in June released 65 recommendations targeting state medical, drug treatment and law enforcement communities. Also in June, the state committed $800,000 to an opioid abuse public awareness campaign.
One method of curbing overdose deaths that has taken hold among first responders had been Naloxone (better known as Narcan), a nasal spray that counters the effects of an overdose. The DPH this year launched a pilot Narcan-distribution and education program.
In August, the state negotiated an agreement to make bulk purchases of Narcan from drug-maker Amphastar Pharmaceuticals.
Overdose deaths in 2014 saw an increase of 63 percent over 2012 and a 20 percent increase over 2013.
Though concentrated in cities, overdose deaths as counted by the DPH last year showed a tally of victims from suburbs around the state. Activists, nonprofits and others calling attention to abuse have noted that addiction to painkillers, heroin and other opioids had been felt among families spanning economic backgrounds.