In 2017, as many as 72,000 Americans died from drug overdoses caused by opioids. The statistics were compiled and published by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Wednesday afternoon. The CDC overdose death data represent a 6.6% increase from 2016 nationally. In Massachusetts, though, overdose deaths decreased in the past year.

It is suggested that the increased use and potency of fentanyl is a major factor behind the rise of overdose deaths. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid so powerful it is estimated to be between 25-50 times stronger than heroin, and 50-100 times stronger than morphine.

Across the U.S., overdose deaths caused by synthetic opioids spiked from approximately 21,000 in January 2017 to more than 29,000 in January 2018. Massachusetts is experiencing a similar trend. Fentanyl overdose deaths are on the rise. Between 2014-2017, fentanyl-related overdose deaths doubled.

Also in that same time span, general opioid-related overdose deaths in Massachusetts more than doubled among Hispanics–a rate higher than any other demographic in the state.

In New Haven, Conn. beginning Tuesday evening more than 70 people overdosed after using a synthetic marijuana called K2 or Spice. At least 35 people were treated for overdoses on Wednesday. No fatalities were reported. It is possible the drug was laced with powerful opioids, no excluding fentanyl.

While heroin-related overdose deaths showed signs of decline nationwide and in Massachusetts, cocaine-related deaths rose in both cases.

Specifically in Massachusetts, overdose deaths with cocaine and fentanyl present have risen sharply since 2015. This figure represents polysubstance use, meaning the illicit use of either substances, or cocaine with fentanyl present, hinting at the possibility of cocaine laced with fentanyl.

The data showed minority populations (i.e., Hispanics and Black, non-Hispanics) already at higher risk of experiencing opioid-related overdose, and the recent rise over the past few years was more prominent among these populations.

The Gándara Center provides a variety of addiction treatment services to those in need, from long-term residential recovery to peer-to-peer support groups. We serve more than 10,000 people from all backgrounds per year at 45 locations across the state.