U.S. overdose deaths seem to have fallen for the first time in nearly three decades, preliminary numbers suggest.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shared data showing nearly 68,000 drug overdose deaths were reported last year. These numbers may go up after more investigations. As expected by the agency the tally will end up below 69,000.
But it should be noted that overdose deaths had been climbing each year since 1990, topping 70,000 in 2017. Alex Azar, U.S. secretary of health and human services said that we’re beginning to win the fight against this crisis.
But the overdose death rate is still around seven times higher than it was a generation ago.
Infact, researchers don’t believe this is the beginning of a dramatic decline. Farida Ahmad of the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics said that data from the first months of this year likely will show that the decrease is not gaining steam.
The improvement is due to drop in deaths from heroin and prescription painkillers. These falls are offset by continuing growth in deaths involving a different opioid, fentanyl, as well as other drugs such cocaine and methamphetamines. Overdose deaths often involve more than one drug. Also, some states seem to be making dramatic progress while deaths continue to rise in others.
Strategies to reduce drug overdose deaths include tougher policing, treatment program expansions, policies to limit opioid painkiller prescriptions and wider distribution of the overdose-reversing drug naloxone.
Valerie Hardcastle, a Northern Kentucky University administrator who oversees research and other work on local health issues says, it is fantastic that we have fewer deaths, but it is not a clear indication that the opioid problem is diminishing. It only indicates that we have greater availability of the drugs that will keep us alive.