Increase in fatal overdoses among persons who use drugs in Boston during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Department of Public Health (DPH) and the Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC) are reaching out to treatment providers, hospitals, and health centers in response to the recently published bi-annual opioid report. The data shows a dramatic increase in fatalities for the first time since 2016. This is most evident in the City of Boston.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a disruption to healthcare, social services, and public health systems, which has had a devastating impact on Boston’s most vulnerable residents and exasperated the ongoing opioid epidemic. More specifically, Black male residents are the most burdened by the co-occurring public health emergencies. The ensuing data highlights the health inequities in Boston among residents of color that use drugs.

  • Fentanyl remains a key factor in opioid-related overdose deaths.
  • In 2020, Fentanyl was present in 92% of overdose related toxicology screens (see below figure).
  • Nearly half (46%) of opioid-related overdose deaths had cocaine present.
  • There were increases in opioid-related overdose deaths in both males and females as well as adults aged 25 and older.
  • The rate of overdose death increased significantly among Black non-Hispanic men, rising from 32.6 per 100,000 in 2019 to 55.1 per 100,000 in 2020 (see below figure).

It is critical that we increase efforts across all treatment programs, healthcare, and partner institutions so that we may remain accessible for those most at risk of overdose, and continue to provide essential services.