BOSTON (CBS) – Governor Charlie Baker says fentanyl is increasingly becoming the biggest overdose threat in the state.
“It’s not just present in heroin overdoses. It’s present in cocaine, it’s present in methamphetamine,” said Baker from his executive office inside the Massachusetts State House.
Health officials say in 2014, illicit fentanyl was present in 30% of overdose deaths. By 2018, it’s been present in as many as nine of out ten overdoses.
Related: Opioid Recovery Resources
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says pharmaceutical fentanyl is a synthetic opioid. Most often used as anesthesia or prescribed to treat chronic or acute pain — caused by severe illnesses like cancer.
The CDC says it’s stronger than heroin and 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine.
“The good news is that it’s now a scheduled one drug. It is treated for the very dangerous drug that it is,” Baker said.
The trafficking of fentanyl became illegal in the Commonwealth in 2015. Since, numbers provided by State Police show confiscations of fentanyl and carfentanyl nearly tripled by 2017.
But amid the rise in fentanyl use, there’s been a drop in overdoses linked to prescription painkillers. Health officials say opioid related overdose deaths fell 8.3% in 2017, and to this date, have fallen for three consecutive quarters.
Much of it can be attributed to years of landmark legislation that aims to make it harder to get pills and easier to get help.
The Step Act in 2016 instituted the nation’s first seven-day limit on opioid prescriptions – which resulted in a 29% decline in prescribing.
And since taking office, the Baker-Polito Administration says it has added 1,200 treatment beds. The state also increased the bulk purchasing of Narcan; some attribute the drop in deaths to access to the medication.
“I think that’s probably true in some respects,” said Baker. “I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I think that’s a good thing. I mean obviously I’d like to see the number of overdoses go down period. The fact that Narcan is more available, it’s been a lifesaver.”
Baker’s push for more oversight on prescribing has garnered national attention. As the chair of the National Governor’s Association’s Health and Human Services Committee, Baker offered the state’s blueprint on combating the crisis to the nation’s governors. He says 45 governors have committed to adopting similar legislation.
Baker says his commitment is deeply rooted in the pain he felt meeting families in crisis on the campaign trail.
“This was so deep for them it was literally like they were exploding at me,” said Baker. “I certainly feel committed to a lot of the people who said to me ‘can you just do something?’”
Building on the success of the Step Act, last month, Governor Baker signed the Care Act into law. The bill mandates prescribers convert to electronic prescriptions by 2020. It also creates a commission to study safe injection sites, involuntary commitments and the credentialing recovery coaches.
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This is the latest story in a series of WBZ-TV reports on confronting the opioid crisis in Massachusetts.