BOSTON (AP) -- At least 185 people have died of heroin overdoses in Massachusetts during the last four months, state police said Tuesday.
The statistics released by state police do not include fatal overdoses in the state's three largest cities -- Boston, Springfield and Worcester -- because local police handle their own death investigations in those cities and state police do not track those cases.
"Our experience and accumulate knowledge, however, indicates that these numbers absolutely represent an increased rate of fatal heroin overdoses," state police spokesman David Procopio said.
The overdoses were largely concentrated in southeastern Massachusetts, western Massachusetts, the Merrimack Valley and Middlesex County.
State police were unable to provide a comparison for the same time period a year ago because they put a new tracking system in place late last year.
The state Department of Public Health could not provide recent statewide figures, but said there were a total of 642 deaths from opioid overdoses in 2011, the most recent year for which figures are available. That total includes deaths from heroin as well as other opioids, which include Oxycodone, morphine and other pain medications.
State police said there are several factors contributing to the recent increase in fatal overdoses, including suppliers cutting heroin with Fentanyl, a synthetic substance that increases the drug's toxicity. They said a very potent strain of heroin appears to be flooding the streets and users may be using heroin along with other drugs.
"Add to those one more probable factor, the fact that heroin is more readily available and easier for users to obtain than other opiates or prescription narcotics," Procopio said.
He said state police are continuing to work with local police to try to find ways to combat the problem.