BOSTON (WWLP) – In Massachusetts, the opioid-related death rate has seen a 1.5 percent decrease, equivalent to about 25 fewer deaths than in the first nine months of 2021, according to preliminary data released Wednesday by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH).

The DPH says in 2021 there were 2,301 opioid-related overdose deaths, a 9.4 percent increase from the year before. While in the last nine months of this year, there were 1,696 confirmed and estimated opioid-related overdose deaths.

This decrease is in the effort of the Baker-Polito Administration fighting the opioid epidemic. The Administration’s Fiscal Year 2023 (FY23) has invested an amount of $597.2 million in total funding for a wide range of harm reduction, treatment, and recovery programs to help those with substance use disorder, and programming that mitigates substance addiction.

Representatives from the Gandara Center, a non profit that runs several substance abuse programs, say they work with a network of organizations on developing programs to fight addiction and the message might not be getting to more remote communities.

“All of that work that has been done here in this area and others, I think is starting to work, but if you think of some of these isolated towns that maybe don’t have access to resources that’s were we’re looking and you can look right at the data and see when it’s further out of those areas that you are seeing some of those upticks, even if it just a little bit,” said Jade Rivera-McFarlin, Vice President of Development and Community Relations at the Gandara Center.

This data will help organizations target the communities that may need more help fighting opioid addiction and death. McFarlin noted that the increased availability of Narcan, a medicine that rapidly reverses the effect of an overdose, as a contributing factor in the statewide decrease in overdose deaths.

In addition to Narcan, substance abuse specialists say peer counseling has made a huge impact on addiction here locally. Eddie is a former addict. He now runs the peer recovery program for Gandara and has seen first hand how the program has helped.

Heriberto Rodriguez, Director of the recovery coach program at Gandara Center told 22News, “The biggest thing that we face is people who are trying to find a new way of life, we try and help people find joy in life, we help them create goals.”

“Since taking office in 2015, our administration made the opioid epidemic an urgent priority, signing two landmark laws to strengthen and expand efforts addressing this public health crisis and working with the Legislature to exponentially increase funding to support prevention, intervention, treatment, and recovery services in the Commonwealth,” said Governor Charlie Baker. “We are proud of our efforts to make these services more accessible and available to individuals and their families across Massachusetts, but also recognize that the work must continue, especially given the challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic which has exacerbated substance misuse here and across the country.”

“Our administration’s work in fighting the opioid epidemic has always been informed by the valuable insight shared by families directly impacted by this crisis, individuals with substance use disorders, service providers, recovery coaches, and first responders,” said Lt. Governor Karyn Polito. “That insight helped us build a foundation of policies and community-level supports aimed at tackling an epidemic that has devastated too many Massachusetts families.”

Over 210,00 naxolone kits have been distributed to opioid treatment providers, community health centers, hospital emergency departments, and county houses of correction. This is done in order to expand on substance use disorder treatments and overdose prevention initiatives, which started in March 2020.

As of October 2022, federal flexibilities were put in place at the start of the pandemic for take-home doses of medication for opioid use disorder (MOUD). In observance of this initiative, 37 percent of the Massachusetts opioid treatment program patients will be guaranteed life-saving treatment.

Additionally, funds from the state’s Opioid Recovery and Remediation Fund are to support prevention, treatment, and recovery programs.

“We have created a framework of evidence-based harm reduction tools, clinical treatment, low-threshold housing, and recovery supports across communities to ensure access for every individual with substance use or co-occurring illness in the Commonwealth,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders. “Our efforts are rooted in destigmatizing addiction and increasing public awareness that substance use is an illness and that treatment works.”

“Every life lost to opioid overdose is its own tragedy,” said Public Health Commissioner Margret Cooke. “With this report, we are encouraged by the decrease, however modest, in opioid-related overdose deaths in Massachusetts so far this year. We will continue to build on our data-driven and equity-based public health approach as we address the impacts of the opioid epidemic and the COVID-19 pandemic, especially among vulnerable populations.”

DPH’s Bureau of Substance Addiction Services (BSAS) indicates that Fentanyl continues to be a major indicator for opioid-related overdose deaths in Massachusetts. Fentanyl was 94 percent coherent in opioid-related deaths in the first six months of 2022. DPH has issued 100,000 rapid test strip kits to help detect fentanyl.