Overall, the total number opioid deaths in the Bay State are on the decline according to a Department of Public Health report published on Wednesday. However, In 2018, opioids accounted for 40 percent of the deaths in young adults, and a steady increase in confirmed overdose-related death amongst black males.
Last year, 1,181 men, and 436 women died from overdoses in Massachusetts. Most deaths occurred in Boston, where 191 people died from opioids. While the death toll is on the decline, the last four years have seen an increase in the number of black males fatal opioid statistics, a troubling trend that experts can’t explain.
“The opioid epidemic does not discriminate by race or ethnicity or by geographic region,” Department of Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel told the Worcester Telegram on Wednesday. “Individuals and families of every race and in every part of the state have been impacted.”
On Tuesday, the City of Medford filed a public nuisance lawsuit in U.S. District Court against several major pharmaceutical manufacturing and distribution companies, including Sackler family-owned Purdue Pharma who peddled and produced OxyContin. Officials said that these companies are directly responsible for the opioid epidemic which has ravaged the Commonwealth since 2016.
“We are determined to stop this epidemic from further destroying the lives of the people in our community,” Mayor Stephanie M. Burke said on Tuesday. “This lawsuit is one part of the collaborative effort that is needed by municipal, state and federal leaders along with lawmakers, doctors, law enforcement and health officials to join forces to find workable solutions.”
Between 2000 to 2017, 164 residents in a city of about 56,000 lost their lives to opioid addiction.
Medford joined a growing list of Massachusetts cities and towns taking pharmaceutical companies to task.
In June 2018 Attorney General Maura Healey’s office filed a lawsuit claiming Purdue sent sales representatives to Massachusetts doctors’ offices, clinics and hospitals over 150,000 times, handing out “money, meals, or gifts” to more than 2,000 prescribers. Purdue said that it “vigorously” denies the lawsuit’s allegations.
State officials said two straight years of decreases should serve as evidence that efforts to support treatment programs, improving access to naloxone and community outreach have made positive impacts. After implementing the Prescription Monitoring Program in 2015, which requires doctors to track what was being prescribed to patients and in what quantity, lead to a 35 percent reduction of Schedule II opioid prescriptions, such as oxycodone and methadone. However, fentanyl continues to plague the commonwealth at an staggering rate.
“While we are encouraged to see fewer opioid-related overdose deaths for a second consecutive year and a 35 percent decrease in reported opioid prescriptions since 2015, the opioid epidemic continues to present a very serious challenge that is made more difficult due to the presence of fentanyl,” Gov. Charlie Baker said in a statement.