A Dorchester-based health clinic is taking the lead in addressing an epidemic of opioid-related fatalities and overdoses in the state.

Heroin and other opioid-related overdoses rose significantly in Massachusetts in 2016 over the previous year, according to a recent report by the state’s Department of Public Health. The study says nearly 2,000 people died — a 16 percent increase from 2015, or more than 30 people per 100,000.

Responding to the crisis, Gov. Charlie Baker, in a statement, has promised “to monitor trends and respond through targeted prevention, treatment and recovery services to break the negative momentum of this crisis."

Meanwhile, experts at the Codman Square Community Health Centerin Dorchester, which has been dealing with opioid abuse cases for decades, suggest the state may want to look there for clues that could help prevent overdoses. 

Opioid addiction is a long simmering crisis in poor brown, white and black communities of Dorchester, and many users, says one expert, have institutional memory in how to survive.
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Daniel Hogan, director of substance-user services at Codman says, “In the year that I’ve been here when we started doing suboxone work, we haven’t had any fatalities from overdoses.”

Opioid addiction is a long simmering crisis in poor brown, white and black communities of this Boston neighborhood — a neighborhood that has institutional memory in how to survive, says Hogan.   

“You talk to long-standing community members, the response that I often hear is ‘an epidemic isn’t something new,’ whereas a lot of the recent attention focused on overdoses in the suburbs, you know, white, middle-class families, a lot of that stuff has actually been happening here for a while," he said. "There’s a lot of cultural wisdom. You’ll hear patients talking about ways to prevent overdose. That’s how they’ve been able to do it for so long.”

Still, as with other communities, Hogan noted an alarming trend in the Codman Square area: a dramatic rise in the use of the painkiller, Fentanyl, an opiate considered far more dangerous than heroin.

“It’s pretty scary to think that we may be in a time where we could be talking about a market and Fentanyl is really the standard for street opioids that are being sold to users," he said.

Massachusetts courts, law enforcement officials and politicians have stiffened the penalty for Fentanyl trafficking, and treatment centers like Codman Square Community Health are expected to receive more funding for its programs.