Drug overdose deaths in the United States fell in 2018, marking the first significant drop in cases since the 1990s, according to federal officials.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released its provisional data on illegal drug-related fatalities in the United States. Results showed that the number of overdose deaths fell to 68,500 in 2018 from a high of 72,000 in 2017.
Fighting The Drug Overdose Crisis
While the reduction may not be a big one, health experts believe it shows that government efforts to curb the ongoing substance abuse crisis are on the right track.
"The latest provisional data on overdose deaths show that America's united efforts to curb opioid use disorder and addiction are working," said Secretary Alex Azar of the Health and Human Services Department.
"Lives are being saved, and we're beginning to win the fight against this crisis."
Azar attributed the improvement to the leadership of the Trump administration, as well as the work of communities across America to provide medication-assisted treatment to sufferers and distribute much-needed overdose-reversing drugs.
The HHS secretary also announced that opioid prescriptions across the country have dropped.
Opioids remained as one of the most likely drugs to cause fatal overdoses among Americans. However, the CDC study showed that opioid deaths have also dropped slightly to 47,600 cases in 2018 from about 49,000 the year before.
As many as 32,000 deaths recorded in 2018 involved the use of potent synthetic opioid drugs such as fentanyl. The drug has been identified as a primary driver of drug overdose deaths in recent years.
Cautions About The CDC Preliminary Report
While the figures point to an improvement in fatal overdose rates, it is important to note that they were taken from the CDC's provisional data. This means that the results are preliminary and are still subject to change pending the release of the federal agency's final report at the end of the year. The final numbers may be higher or lower than what is shown at the moment.
In 2017, the preliminary figures were off by about 2,000 fatal overdose cases compared to those in the final report. If the 2018 report has the same deviation, only that overdose deaths were to turn out as undercounted, then the final figures could be worse than in 2017.
There is also the possibility that the leveling off in opioid cases might still change significantly in the coming months.
For instance, the number of drug overdose deaths appeared to have leveled off to about 41,500 between 2011 and 2012. However, it eventually ballooned to about 70,000 after the introduction of synthetic opioids into the black market.
Health experts are still concerned about the growing number of synthetic opioid use in the United States. The number of people who use fentanyl and other such synthetic drugs increased to about 32,000 in 2018 from more than 29,000 the year before. Overdose related to cocaine and psychostimulant use also increased during the same period.
The drop in drug overdose deaths and opioid painkiller deaths may have also been a result of doctors issuing fewer prescriptions in 2018.
This could mean that if fatal overdose cases related to other drugs continue to trend upward, then they could overcome any drops related to painkiller deaths.
Despite the improvements shown in the CDC report, the federal government remains committed to seeing the elimination of overdose cases through.
"This crisis developed over two decades and it will not be solved overnight," Azar said.
"We also face other emerging threats, like concerning trends in cocaine and methamphetamine overdoses."
He added that the government will continue to provide resources and support to the public to help prevent and treat drug addiction.