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Map: Where The Opiate Epidemic Is Getting Worse—And Where It's Getting Better—In Massachusetts

May 4, 2016

Two months after Beacon Hill passed a new law intended to combat and prevent opiate addiction, new data on the increase of overdose deaths showcases the urgency of the problem.

Data released Monday by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health showed 1,379 people died as a result of opiate overdoses in 2015, an 8 percent increase over 2014. That year, 1,282 deaths far exceeded the 2013 total of 911 for a stunning 41 percent rise.

The data released showing the town of residence of each victim paint a picture of the state showing the widespread impact of the epidemic and the parts hit hardest by lethal drugs.

• Click the city or town to see its change in overdose deaths from 2012 to 2015.

 

2015 was a dark year for many towns, but there are lighter and darker spots scattered around the Commonwealth.

Sometimes neighboring towns, which share a similar community, as well as medical and treatment services, ended up with radically different proportions of overdose deaths.

Swansea, for instance, is surrounded by towns with overdose death rate increases on pace with the statewide trend. Swansea itself, however, managed to go from four or five deaths in 2012 through 2014 to no fatalities in 2015.

Swansea Police Department Lt. Greg Ryan credits his town's drop in opiate deaths to police, fire and ambulance services all working on the same page.

"We respond with the ambulance corps to every one of the emergencies—and that's truly an emergency when we have that kind of case," Ryan said.

Hanson was hit hard last year. The Plymouth County town of around 10,000 people had only two resident over deaths from 2012 to 2014. In 2015 however, Hanson was hit with six deaths.

State Rep. Josh Cutler (D-Duxbury) represents Hanson and says the problem, and how to approach it, is a multifaceted one that no authority is going to solve just by doing one thing.

"I'm hopeful that we'll see the numbers kind of reversing or bending in the next year, but obviously it's very clear, seeing those statistics, it's clear to me, and I think it's clear to everyone here in Hanson and on the South Shore, that we aren't doing enough and we still need to do more," Cutler told WGBH News.

Cutler said that the South Shore is one of many areas in the state getting hit hard by an increase in opiate use and overdoses.

The legislature took action last year to grow access to treatment facilities of drug misuse patients and the new opiate prevention law that went on the books in March will make an impact, Cutler said.

"There's going to be a bit of a lag before that goes into effect and is really showing up in the statistics," Cutler said.

In the meantime, local authorities are trying to team up with concerned family members and providers to get treatment options into the hands of as many addicts as they can.

Just next door to Hanson, East Bridgewater Police Lt. Scott Allen has been working with the Group EB Hope (East Bridgewater Help Outreach Prevention Education), a community-based effort to bring all available substance-abuse services under one roof. Allen says East Bridgewater and neighboring towns are starting to share their own opiate data to better serve users in the wider community.

"We're tracking the deaths as well so that we really get a real-time, clearer, picture," Allen said.

Ideally, Allen says, "There would be one database in the state where we would all submit our overdose data to, so that we could actually track it in real time collectively and be able to dedicate resources when we see those hot spots show up."

The DPH states in their data release that the cases of confirmed and probable opiate deaths used predictive modeling techniques for cases not finalized by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.


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