The Topline: On Opioids, Better Data Shows Bigger Problem

If there is any silver lining in the horrible news yesterday that more than 1,000 Massachusetts residents died of opioid overdoses last year, it is that the state finally has better data to guide its policy response. Hopefully getting a handle on the statistics and the shape of the problem will help officials, first responders and communities cope with this crisis. A year ago, when then-Governor Deval Patrick declared that opioid overdoses were a public health emergency, we wrote that data to support what the anecdotal evidence seemed to suggest were hard to come by. The best current statistics available at the time, from the State Police, excluded the three largest cities in the state, and the Department of Public Health only had numbers through 2012. Figures cited by then-Senate President Therese Murray as evidence of the growing problem were four years old at the time.

The new figures released yesterday is current up to 2014, with known deaths for 2013 and 2014 supplemented by estimates. It includes numbers for Boston, Worcester and Springfield and breaks the numbers down by county. The data make clear that the state has seen a dramatic spike in opioid-related deaths over the last two years. Also new on the Health and Human Services website are various ways of parsing substance abuse admissions by demographic and geography, down to the town level.

Unfortunately, much of the data still locked in hard-to-use PDFs, and more still could be done to break current information down by geography. Still, the new information is a big step forward. Hopefully it will be more useful to those working to address this crisis.

Local Polling Roundup

Two new statewide polls were released in the past couple weeks largely confirm what we have been seeing in our recent Boston area polling for WBUR.

Boston 2024: Western New England University found 40 percent statewide in favor of the Boston Olympics, with 46 percent opposed. Support was lowest in Boston, at 35-48. Suffolk University also found the bid underwater at 43-46. Our most recent poll for WBUR found support ticking up slightly after dropping for two straight months. Suffolk found majority support for the bid if public funding for venues and running the games were taken off the table. Public funding has also been a major stumbling block in our polling: Voters do not want public money spent on the games, but they expect that it will be necessary.

The Tsarnaev Trial: Nationwide, most would prefer to see convicted Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev receive the death penalty. But in Boston and statewide, opinion is strongly tilted in favor of life in prison, despite the much more immediate and personal impact on area residents. Suffolk found 58 percent in Massachusetts favor of life in prison, identical to the figure in the Boston area from the April WBUR poll .

Charie Baker > Santa Claus: Finally, Suffolk made news with its sky-high ratings for Governor Baker: a 74 percent favorable rating and 70 percent job approval. We have seen Baker's favorables in the 60s in the Boston area, a liberal part of the state, so it follows that his numbers would be even higher when including redder areas. Baker's numbers are truly impressive, and prompted us to fashion the chart below.


Yes, Charlie Baker is more popular than Santa Claus, but Mother Teresa would still probably win head-to-head.


Gay Marriage at SCOTUS

On the eve of this week's arguments on gay marriage before the Supreme Court, HuffPost rounds up the latest polling on the issue, which finds support at record highs.

Gallup has compiled its recent polling on same-sex relationships for the occasion and has the best long term trend data showing the evolution of views on this issue.


On a related matter, the Elon poll finds broad opposition in North Carolina to businesses denying gays service based on religious freedom.

Over at TheUpshot, Nate Cohn argues that SCOTUS legalizing gay marriage would help Republicans by neutralizing the issue.

Pew finds that 50 percent of Americans hold a favorable view of the Court. But Democrats think the court is too conservative, while Republicans consider it too liberal.

FiveThirtyEight looks at an effort underway to predict Court decisions based on textual analysis of oral arguments.

2016 Looming

HuffPost notes that Marco Rubio's "surge" to the head of the GOP primary pack is exaggerated and actually matches the bumps other candidates have received in the wake of their announcements.

PPP finds Scott Walker up 10 on the pack in Iowa. Meanwhile, it's no contest as Hillary Clinton has 62 percent of Democratic primary votes.

Meanwhile, as Chris Christie's favorables sag in his home state of New Jersey, FiveThirtyEight's Harry Enten says comparing Christie to John McCain, who came from behind in the GOP primary in 2008, is "more out of place than matzo on bacon".

And HuffPost answers the burning question: which 2016 campaign logo do Americans prefer?


The Washington Post tells the tale of inequality in Baltimore with a neat interactive map.

And FiveThirtyEight finds that Baltimore is no outlier when it comes to income inequality between races.

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Also in their presidential poll, Public Policy Polling answers the question you all have been asking: Do Iowans like corn more than Wisconsinites like cheese?

Finally, an ode to the U.S. Census from the Twitterverse:


And yes, that may be the nerdiest Nerd Alert Tearline item yet.