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'From Horrible to Less Horrible’: Opioid Deaths Decline in Massachusetts

The data, described as preliminary, show that deaths continue to decline despite the growing presence of illicit fentanyl in the drug supply.

By Felice J. Freyer

The number of people who died of opioid-related overdoses fell nearly 11 percent in the first six months of 2019, compared to the same period last year, continuing a downward trend that started in 2017, according to the latest quarterly report from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

The decrease follows a 4 percent decline from 2016 to 2018, according to the report, released Wednesday.

But the statistics don’t tell the whole story, said Dr. Dustin Patil, director of addiction psychiatry at Tufts Medical Center. “When you look at the absolute numbers, we’ve gone from horrible to less horrible,” Patil said. “So many people are still dying.”

In the first six months of 2019, there were 938 confirmed and estimated opioid-related deaths in Massachusetts, 112 fewer than the 1,050 deaths between January and June of 2018.

Those numbers are still exceedingly high. In 2011, by way of comparison, there were 656 opioid-related fatal overdoses throughout the entire year.

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