WBUR Martha Bebinger
Massachusetts sets a new record for opioid overdose deaths in 2022. Jagpreet Chhatwal, Director of MGH Institute of Technology Assessment, talked with WBUR (Boston’s NPR station) regarding his recent study published in JAMA Network Open that evaluates policies for reducing overdose deaths.
Massachusetts has set another record, one no one will celebrate. Preliminary state data shows there were 2,357 overdose deaths in 2022. That’s 57 more deaths than in 2021, and an increase of 9% from the highest point before the COVID pandemic.
More than six people died, on average, every day.
The Healey administration released an opioid strategy plan with the fatality numbers. It includes some new initiatives: vending machines that will dispense clean needles and other harm reduction supplies, an overdose prevention hotline, and a data dashboard to help communities understand their specific challenges and ways to address them.
A key piece of the administration’s plan is a significant increase in spending on treatment. A study published earlier this month in the journal JAMA offered daunting estimates of how much more treatment is needed in Massachusetts to curb overdose deaths.
The researchers found that doubling the number of people starting treatment and continuing for at least six months would reduce deaths by 16%. It would take an “aspirational” five-fold increase to cut fatal overdoses by 27%, the researchers estimated.
“We have to change things substantially,” said lead author Jagpreet Chhatwal, a researcher at Massachusetts General Hospital. “If we don’t, we can’t expect big changes in overdose deaths. That’s what these figures are telling us.”
Image Credit: A syringe filled with what is believed to fentanyl lies on the ground with a bag of other various drug user paraphernalia behind the Universal Missionary Church in Brockton. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)