BOSTON (WWLP) – The number of deaths resulting from opioid overdose is on the rise in Massachusetts.

According to a report released Wednesday by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH), opioid-related overdose deaths in the state increased by 8.8 percent from 2020 to 2021. The new data suggests that the COVID-19 pandemic and, “an increasingly poisoned drug supply, primarily with the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl,” have contributed to the trend.

The DPH’s report indicates that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on mental health, which in turn has led to increased substance use across the Commonwealth. A first-look at DPH’s “Covid-19 Community Impact Survey” revealed an increase in poor mental health and substance use since the pandemic began, especially among Black, Indigenous, people of color (BIPOC) and LGBTQ+ individuals.

2,290 opioid-related overdose deaths in 2021

Although overdose deaths are on the rise in Massachusetts, the number continues to trend lower than nationwide figures. The DPH said that there were 2,290 confirmed and estimated opioid-related overdose deaths in 2021. That’s an estimated 185 more deaths than the prior year.

“So much of this is awareness, awareness, awareness. If people knew the risk, I’m convinced at least some of this would be mitigated and minimized. Because again, at the end of the day, people don’t want to die. They’re engaging in risky behavior, but not with the intent to no longer live,” said Senator John Velis.

Preliminary numbers for 2022 outlined in the DPH report

Governor Charlie Baker said his administration is working to address the issue and prevent further loss of life. “Today’s report underscores the harmful impact that the COVID-19 pandemic and the scourge of fentanyl have had on those struggling with addiction, and we are committed to continuing our work with the Legislature and our colleagues in the addiction and recovery community to boost access to services and treatment,” Baker said.

“This year our officers have responded to slightly fewer suspected overdoses compared to last year.
The numbers are still way too high ut what we are seeing over the course of the last few years from Springfield police officers carrying Narcan, from firefighters carrying Narcan to AMR now having intravenous Narcan is that a lot more lives are being saved from first responders,” said Springfield Police Department Spokesperson Ryan Walsh.

Westfield and Ware were among the communities that saw increases in opioid deaths over that time frame, while Chicopee saw a decrease. Drug overdose deaths in the state continue to trend lower than the nationwide figures.