Thursday, November 17, 2016

State health department reports show rising opioid epidemic, especially deaths involving fentanyl

Opioid deaths have been on the rise in recent years, especially in rural areas. Reports from state health departments in Tennessee and Massachusetts show just how bad the epidemic has become and are examples of county-level data that should be available in every state to localize news stories.

In Tennessee 1,451 overdose deaths were reported in 2015, the most on record for one year, says a report from the Tennessee Department of Health. Of those deaths, 72 percent involved opioids and the vast majority were ruled unintentional. Fentanyl, which is often mixed with heroin, contributed to 174 deaths in 2015, up from 69 in 2014. Heroin caused 205 deaths, up from 147 in 2014. The total death rate was 22 per every 100,000 people, up from 19.3 in 2014 and 16.6 in 2011.

Through the first three quarters of 2016 Massachusetts has seen 1,005 unintentional opioid overdose deaths, "with an estimated 392 to 470 suspected opioid-related deaths that may be added to that total," says a report released earlier this month by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. Of those deaths 74 percent tested positive for fentanyl. The rate of heroin deaths is down this year. (Massachusetts DPH map: Unintentional opioid deaths,2013-15)

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