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June 23, 2023

Opioid deaths rise nearly 20% in Worcester County, 40% in city of Worcester

Photo | Grant Welker The opioid-related death rate in the city of Worcester is on the rise.

In Worcester County, total opioid-related deaths increased to 331 in 2022, up from 281 the previous year. This 17.8% increase is one of the highest statewide.

The opioid-related death percent increase trails only the 20% increase in Dukes County, the statistical area that comprises Martha’s Vineyard, which increased from five to six total deaths. Among higher-population counties, Worcester County’s increase was the greatest, followed by a 13.8% increase in Plymouth County.

Opioid deaths in Worcester County have not totaled more than 300 in any of the past 10 years, according to data released Thursday by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. Statewide, opioid deaths increased 2.5% to 2,357 in 2022. 

In the city of Worcester, deaths increased to 168 in 2022, up from 123 the previous year, an increase of 36.6%. This is the largest increase in the past 10 years of data and is the highest total number of opioid-related deaths in the city for a single year. In the two previous years, overall opioid deaths in the city were on the decline, from a previous high in 2019 of 144 deaths.

In Framingham, opioid-related deaths jumped in 2022 from a low in 2021. In 2022, there were 17 deaths, compared to 8 in 2021, which was a marked decrease from a high of 24 in 2020. 

Statewide, opioid-related death increases are at the highest rate among Black, non-Hispanic residents, according to DPH data. Among that group, the rate increased by 42%, 36.4 to 51.7 deaths per 100,000 residents. The overall opioid-related death rate per 100,000 residents is 33.5. 

In cases where toxicology reports were available, fentanyl was present in 93% of fatal overdoses in 2022, according to the DPH report.

So far in 2023, the rate seems to be on the decline, according to DPH data. For the first three months of this year, there have been 522 confirmed and estimated opioid-related deaths in Massachusetts, a 7.7% decrease from the same period in 2022.

The Gov. Maura Healey Administration’s fiscal 2024 budget proposes $600 million in substance addiction prevention and treatment programs investments, according to a press release accompanying the data. 

“As attorney general, I made combating the opioid crisis a top priority, and that commitment continues as governor while we work to provide individuals and communities with the support they need for treatment, prevention, and recovery,” Healey said in the press release. “Too many Massachusetts families, particularly families of color, have been impacted by this crisis, and in order to effectively respond, we need to address the gaps in the system by advancing long-term solutions that include housing, jobs, mental health care and more resources for our cities and towns.”

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