Opioid deaths rose 5 percent in Massachusetts last year
The increase wipes out five years of progress, with a toll much higher among Black and Hispanic people.
Opioid-related overdose deaths increased by 5 percent in Massachusetts last year and rose dramatically among non-Hispanic Black men, as the pandemic erased the state’s recent progress in combating the addiction crisis.
In its semiannual report, released Wednesday, the state Department of Public Health revealed that there were 2,104 opioid deaths in 2020 — 102 more than 2019 and two more than the peak year of 2016.
The state also released numbers for the first quarter of 2021, which showed a continued increase. There were 507 overdose deaths, 2 percent more than in the same period in 2020.
“Massachusetts was in a steady decline in opioid overdose deaths before the pandemic hit,” Dr. Monica Bharel, state public health commissioner, told the Public Health Council on Wednesday. “Despite all the effort and resources we poured into it, the pandemic has set back that progress.”
The pandemic brought isolation, stress, and fear, said Dr. Miriam Komaromy, medical director of the Grayken Center for Addiction at Boston Medical Center.
“It’s a natural part of addiction that when people have increased stress, that triggers drug use,” Komaromy said. In addition, the advice to socially distance to avoid COVID-19 prompted more people to use drugs alone and risk overdosing with no one nearby to rescue them. And fear of infection kept people away from treatment centers.
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