- Associated Press - Saturday, March 7, 2015

WORCESTER, Mass. (AP) - A task force created by Gov. Charlie Baker to tackle the state’s heroin and prescription drug abuse crisis is getting to work.

The 17-member panel will hold a public meeting on Tuesday in Worcester, the first of four around the state.

Baker has called the overdose epidemic a public health emergency and one of the top priorities of his administration. He’s asking the task force to report back to him by the end of May with strategies for dealing with addiction, treatment and recovery.

State officials say there were 978 opioid-related overdose deaths in Massachusetts last year, a 46 percent increase over the previous year.

Tuesday’s session will be held at Quinsigamond Community College. The other meetings are scheduled for March 19 in Greenfield, March 26 in Plymouth and April 2 in Boston.

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