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Despite Initial Projections, N.H. Overdose Deaths Didn't Decline in 2017

Casey McDermott, NHPR
Data is current as of April 2018, according to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. An additional six cases from 2017 and 86 from 2018 are awaiting toxicology results to determine the exact cause of death.

At one point last year, it looked like New Hampshire might be turning a corner in its opioid crisis.

State officials predicted overdose deaths could decline, even slightly, in 2017: In August, they forecasted there would be 466 total, down from a record 485 the year before. 

In September and October, the estimate ticked down even farther, to 460 and then 457.

In the months since, that forecast has been revised upward several times. And the latest figures, released by the state medical examiner Friday, show that 483 people died from drug overdoses in 2017 — just two fewer than the year before.

The large number of fatal overdoses in recent years has created a persistent backlog at the state laboratory (where those cases are reviewed to determine the exact cause of death), and officials are still processing overdose deaths from last year. As of Friday, the medical examiner’s office said they were awaiting toxicology results on six additional cases from 2017.

While heroin is often named as the chief factor behind New Hampshire’s current drug crisis, the data shows that just one person died from overdosing on heroin alone in 2017.

In contrast, more than 350 of last year’s drug deaths were linked to fentanyl, either on its own or combined with other drugs. The steep uptick in fatal overdoses in New Hampshire over the last few years has corresponded with a steep uptick in fentanyl deaths, according to data provided by the state.

So far this year, state officials say at least 40 people have died from drug overdoses; 34 of those deaths involved fentanyl. An additional 86 cases are still under review. 

More details on the latest in the state’s drug overdose data can be found below.

Casey McDermott is a senior news editor at New Hampshire Public Radio. Throughout her time as an NHPR reporter and editor, she has worked with colleagues across the newsroom to deepen the station’s accountability coverage, data journalism and audience engagement across platforms.

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