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Opioid overdoses in Massachusetts remain high

Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, is facing thousands of lawsuits seeking to hold it accountable for the opioid crisis.
Toby Talbot
/
AP
Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, is facing thousands of lawsuits seeking to hold it accountable for the opioid crisis.

As the opioid epidemic rages on, preliminary data for 2022 shows a slight decrease from last year's record high opioid-related overdose deaths in Massachusetts, though overdoses still remain high compared to the past two decades.

The rate of opioid-related overdose deaths in the state increased 11% between 2020 and 2021. The first nine months of 2022 so far show an estimated 1.5% decrease compared with the same time period in 2021, according to the Massachusetts Public Health Council's biannual opioid report released Wednesday.

In the first nine months of this year, there were 1,696 confirmed and estimated opioid-related overdose deaths, or about 25 fewer deaths than in the first nine months of 2021.

Through the first six months of this year, fentanyl was present in 94% of toxicology screens of people who died from opioid-related overdoses. The introduction of the potent synthetic opioid into the state's illicit drug trade has been associated with increasing fatal overdoses for years.

Public Health Commissioner Margaret Cooke on Wednesday also warned of a new drug that has begun surfacing in toxicology screens.

Xylazine, a veterinary pain reliever and sedative that is not considered to be safe for humans, began being significantly detected in toxicology screens this year, and has so far been present in 5% of opioid-related overdoses in 2022.

This is a developing story.

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