U.S. drug overdoses killed 110,000 last year as the fentanyl epidemic continues to take a huge toll. But experts see hopeful signs

Officers with the Facilities for Illness Management and Prevention say the numbers plateaued for many of final yr. Consultants aren’t certain whether or not which means the deadliest drug overdose epidemic in U.S. historical past is lastly reaching a peak, or whether or not it’ll appear to be earlier plateaus that have been adopted by new surges in deaths.

“The truth that it does appear to be flattening out, no less than at a nationwide stage, is encouraging,” mentioned Katherine Keyes, a Columbia College epidemiology professor whose analysis focuses on drug use. “However these numbers are nonetheless terribly excessive. We shouldn’t counsel the disaster is in any method over.”

An estimated 109,680 overdose deaths occurred final yr, in keeping with numbers posted Wednesday by the CDC. That’s about 2% greater than the 107,622 U.S. overdose deaths in 2021, however nothing just like the 30% enhance seen in 2020, and 15% enhance in 2021.

Whereas the general nationwide quantity was comparatively static between 2021 and 2022, there have been dramatic modifications in a lot of states: 23 reported fewer overdose deaths, one — Iowa — noticed no change, and the remaining continued to extend.

Eight states — Florida, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia — reported sizable overdose loss of life decreases of about 100 or extra in contrast with the earlier calendar yr.

A few of these states had a number of the highest overdose loss of life charges in the course of the epidemic, which Keyes mentioned could be an indication that years of concentrated work to handle the issue is paying off. State officers cited varied components for the decline, like social media and well being training campaigns to warn the general public in regards to the risks of drug use; expanded dependancy remedy — together with telehealth — and wider distribution of the overdose-reversing medicine naloxone.

Plus, the stigma that saved drug customers from looking for assist — and a few docs and law enforcement officials from serving to them — is waning, mentioned Dr. Joseph Kanter, the state well being officer for Louisiana, the place overdose deaths fell 4% final yr.

“We’re catching up and the tide’s turning — slowly,” mentioned Kanter, whose state has one of many nation’s highest overdose loss of life charges.

Starting within the mid-Nineteen Nineties, abuse of prescription opioid painkillers was guilty for deaths earlier than a gradual flip to heroin, which in 2015 brought on extra deaths than prescription painkillers or different medication. A yr later, the extra deadly fentanyl and its shut cousins turned the largest drug killer.

Final yr, most overdose deaths continued to be linked to fentanyl and different artificial opioids. About 75,000, up 4% from the yr earlier than. There additionally was a 11% enhance in deaths involving cocaine and a 3% enhance in deaths involving meth and different stimulants.

Overdose deaths are sometimes attributed to multiple drug; some folks take a number of medication and officers say cheap fentanyl is more and more minimize into different medication, typically with out the patrons’ information.

Analysis from Dr. Daniel Ciccarone, a drug coverage knowledgeable on the College of California, San Francisco, suggests “there seems to be some substitution happening,” with a lot of individuals who use illicit medication turning to methamphetamines or different choices to attempt to keep away from fentanyl and fentanyl-tainted medication.

Ciccarone mentioned he believes overdose deaths lastly will development down. He cited enhancements in improvements in counseling and dependancy remedy, higher availability of naloxone and authorized actions that led to greater than $50 billion in proposed and finalized settlements — cash that needs to be obtainable to bolster overdose prevention.

“We’ve thrown loads at this 20-year opioid overdose downside,” he mentioned. ”We needs to be bending the curve downward.”

However he additionally voiced some warning, saying “we’ve got been right here earlier than.”

Contemplate 2018, when overdose deaths dropped 4% from the earlier yr, to about 67,000. After these numbers got here out, then-President Donald Trump declared “we’re curbing the opioid epidemic.”

However overdose deaths then rose to a report 71,000 in 2019, then soared in the course of the COVID-19 pandemic to 92,000 in 2020 and 107,000 in 2021.

Lockdowns and different pandemic-era restrictions remoted folks with drug addictions and made remedy tougher to get, consultants mentioned.

Keyes believes that 2022’s numbers didn’t get any worse partly as a result of isolation eased because the pandemic ebbed. However there could also be points forward, others say, like elevated detection of veterinary tranquilizer xylazine within the illicit drug provide and proposals to reduce issues like prescribing dependancy medicines by means of telehealth.

“What the previous 20 years of this overdose disaster has taught us is that this actually is a shifting goal,” Keyes mentioned. “And whenever you assume you’ve acquired a deal with on it, typically the issue can shift in new and alternative ways.”

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