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News Briefs: Bill to study Boston-to-Berkshires rail service; Opioid-related death rate falls

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By Wednesday, Feb 14, 2018 News

New bill will study Boston-to-Berkshires rail service

Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield

Pittsfield — The Joint Committee on Transportation has favorably released a bill that will study the costs and impacts of rail service from Boston to the Berkshires.

“In advocating for economic development its important to not only look to the immediate future but to create opportunities in a decade or two. A rail study gives us the tools to see what it will take to better connect all of Western Mass to the Boston metro area,” said Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield.

The study will include projected costs of upgrading versus construction of new track; capital costs including takings; the purchase of rolling stock; projected timelines and ridership; an assessment of environmental and community impacts; and the resulting economic, social and cultural benefits to the Berkshires and Pioneer Valley and the Commonwealth as a whole.

An original bill called for a Boston-to-Springfield rail study.

“The progress this bill has made to include the Berkshires is the result of teamwork at its very best,” said Farley-Bouvier. “This entire delegation came together with a strong, unified and consistent voice and we are pleased that legislative leadership agrees with us.

“Consistent, reliable, affordable East-West rail would allow for people to live in the Berkshires and work in other parts of the state, allow for more businesses to open up here and expand our cultural and tourism markets,” Farley-Bouvier added. “It needs to be part of true a vision for the future of transportation in the Commonwealth.”

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Opioid-related overdose deaths fell by more than 8 percent in 2017

Boston — Opioid-related overdose deaths in Massachusetts declined in 2017 by an estimated 8.3 percent compared with 2016. This is the first time in several years that there has been a year-over-year decline, according to the quarterly report released Wednesday by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. This is the third consecutive quarterly report in which the number of estimated and confirmed opioid-related deaths has declined.

The total number of estimated and confirmed opioid-related overdose deaths in 2017 was 1,977, which is 178 fewer deaths than the 2,155 estimated and confirmed deaths in 2016, or an 8.3 percent decrease. In previous years, year-over-year comparisons showed increases in opioid-related overdose deaths; the estimated opioid-related overdose death rate in 2016 increased by 22 percent from 2015; there was a 30 percent increase in 2015 from the prior year; and, in 2014, there was a 39 percent increase from 2013.

Selected findings from the 2017 fourth-quarter report on opioid-related deaths:

  • The rate of fentanyl present in the toxicology of opioid-related overdose deaths continues to rise and reached 83 percent in 2017, while the rate of heroin or likely heroin present in opioid-related deaths declined between 2015 and 2016 and stabilized in 2017.
  • The percentage of opioid-related overdose deaths in which prescription drugs were present has trended downward since the beginning of 2014 when approximately 25 percent of these deaths with a toxicology screen showed evidence of a prescription opioid. In 2017, prescription opioids present in toxicology screens remained stable.
  • The confirmed opioid-related overdose death rate for Hispanics doubled over a three-year period, from 15.6 opioid-related overdose deaths per 100,000 people in 2014 to 31.4 opioid-related overdose deaths per 100,000 people in 2016.
  • In the first nine months of 2017, the greatest number of suspected opioid Emergency Medical Services overdose incidents were among males aged 25–34, accounting for 27 percent of opioid-related incidents with a known age and gender.
  • In the fourth quarter of 2017, there were approximately 594,000 Schedule II opioid prescriptions reported to the Massachusetts Prescription Monitoring Program; this is a 30 percent decrease from the first quarter of 2015 when there were 841,990 Schedule II opioid prescriptions.
  • Approximately 268,000 individuals in Massachusetts received prescriptions for Schedule II opioids in the fourth quarter of 2017; this is more than a 30 percent decrease from the first quarter of 2015 when the figure was 390,532.
  • The rate of individuals with activity of concern – defined as an individual who received one or more Schedule II opioid prescriptions from four or more different prescribers and four or more different pharmacies during the calendar year–decreased by 56 percent from 14.3 to 6.3 per 1,000 individuals between 2013 and 2017.

In November, the Baker-Polito administration announced its second major legislative effort targeting the opioid crisis since taking office. The plan includes increasing access to treatment and recovery services, including addressing gaps in the care provided after detoxification; strengthening education and prevention efforts; and securing regulatory relief from the federal government to increase treatment access.

The administration has also focused on addressing the disproportionate risk of opioid overdose deaths among incarcerated populations. The landmark Chapter 55 Overdose Report showed that the opioid overdose death rate is 120 times higher for people recently released from incarceration compared to the rest of the adult population.

This month, the Suffolk County House of Correction will become the sixth correctional facility to make available medication-assisted treatment and recovery services to incarcerated individuals with opioid-use disorders within two months of their release. The program, known as the Medication-Assisted Treatment Re-Entry Initiative for Houses of Correction, already includes the Bristol County House of Correction, the Franklin County House of Correction, the Hampden County House of Correction, the Middlesex County House of Correction and the Worcester County House of Correction.

As part of its outreach to Latino communities, which also have been disproportionately impacted by the opioid epidemic, the state has launched a new public information campaign targeting Latino parents of teens to raise awareness about prescription opioid addiction and help them learn how to talk about the dangers of opioid misuse with their children.

According to the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, children whose parents talked with them about prescription pain medications were 42 percent less likely to misuse the drugs than those whose parents didn’t.

The new campaign includes a Spanish-language television spot that is airing on Spanish TV outlets in Boston and Springfield and also includes digital, YouTube and Facebook ads. DPH has also produced a Spanish-language version of the “Stop Addiction Before It Starts” brochure, which provides guidance to help parents start the conversation with their teens.

All campaign materials include a call to action for parents to visit www.mass.gov/stopaddiction for more information in Spanish as well as English.

For more information on the Commonwealth’s response to the opioid epidemic as well as links to the latest data, visit www.mass.gov/opioidresponse. To get help for a substance use disorder, visit www.helplinema.org or call the Massachusetts Substance Use Helpline at (800) 327-5050.

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