New report details rates of opioid-related deaths in western Massachusetts

The number of opioid-related deaths is at an all-time high in Massachusetts.
Updated: Aug. 3, 2023 at 5:55 PM EDT
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SPRINGFIELD, MA (WGGB/WSHM) - New data from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health for 2022 showed that opioid-related deaths have hit record high levels in the Bay State, but it’s a different story in parts of western Massachusetts, where Franklin County saw a decline in opioid-related fatalities in 2022 and Hampshire County remained the same. Hampden County saw an uptick.

The number of opioid-related deaths is at an all-time high in Massachusetts, but counties in western Massachusetts have taken a proactive approach to combating this public health epidemic.

“We’ve really worked on treatment, modalities with inpatient outpatient, making sure people get that treatment in a timely way, and one of the things that we have done very effectively as we’ve had programs that have gone out to the family and the person who has overdosed it make sure they get linked with treatment,” said Northwestern District Attorney David Sullivan.

Sullivan told Western Mass News that in the last 10 years, they have created two task forces to help address the opioid crisis.

“It went from oxycodone to heroin and now you got fentanyl mixed with xylazine. These are very lethal. One pill can kill and so, we really want to work at the grassroots with students, young people to tell them about these particular drugs. Fentanyl is mixed into not only heroin or by itself, but also into pills,” Sullivan explained.

In 2022, there were 2,357 confirmed opioid-related deaths in Massachusetts. That number surpassed the previous peak in 2021 by 57 deaths. In Franklin County, the number of deaths has decreased.

“In Athol, our overdose deaths went down 25 percent. In Franklin County, it went down 40 percent and Hampshire was about the same. Overall, in our district, it went down almost 38 percent, so we feel good it’s a one-year statistic. We will hopefully repeat that it’s really being vigilant and making sure that the community understands that there is a big issue behind overdoses,” Sullivan added.

Meanwhile, in Hampden County, District Attorney Anthony Gulluni told us the number of opioid related fatalities saw an uptick in 2022.

“Sadly, we had a slight increase across the county as a whole and some increases in places like Springfield,” Gulluni said.

He said those numbers were disheartening to see, but it has not discouraged them from the work they have already put in and the work the will continue to do going forward.

“What we’ve done is we established a drug corps in Springfield District Court, specifically people dealing with addiction. More recently, in Holyoke District Court, we started a diversion program for people who are coming in and out of the court system who are dealing with addiction among other things,” Gulluni explained. “We’ve paid for Narcan doses to be distributed to first responders now for several years. This office has provided thousands of doses that have made their way into fire trucks and ambulances and police cars across this county.”

Gulluni said their biggest concern is the alarming amount of fentanyl they have discovered.

“Something like 94 percent of fatal overdoses that were subject to a toxicology report involved fentanyl, so fentanyl has arrived in western Massachusetts as of years ago. It now plays a huge part in the number of fatal overdoses that we’re seeing here and across this Commonwealth,” Gulluni noted.

He shared a message for the community as they work to decrease the number of overdose deaths for 2023.

“If you can intervene, you can provide Naloxone. You can provide that conversation. You can get someone into an appropriate facility or to address their issues before it gets to that point that gives us a chance at recovery and that’s probably the best thing we can do,” Gulluni said. “We’ve saved a lot of lives and we’re hopeful that we’re going to see improvements in our county and across the Commonwealth and across this country as everyone deals with this epidemic of addiction.”