Have overdose deaths in the US really stopped rising?

(New York) Preliminary government data suggests so, but many experts urge caution, noting that such plateaus have not persisted in the past.

Overdose deaths in the United States began to rise steadily in the 1990s, driven by opioid painkillers, followed by waves of deaths from other opioids such as heroin and, more recently, fentanyl.

More than 107,000 Americans died of drug overdoses last year – the highest death toll in US history.

On Wednesday, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released preliminary data on what happened in the first six months of this year. The news looks promising.

However, preliminary data show that these deaths in the United States have decreased for three consecutive months. The CDC estimated that there were approximately 107,600 overdose deaths during the 12-month period from July 2021 to June 2022. This is 40 people less than in the 2021 calendar year.

“Today’s data continues to show an encouraging downward trend in overdose deaths,” but more prevention and treatment work is needed, said Dr. Rahul Gupta, director of the Office of National Policy, White House Drug Control.

Indeed, this decline is very uneven across the United States. Only eight states reported fewer overdose deaths, while all others saw steady increases. And only four states — Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia — reported a significant decrease of 100 or more deaths from the previous July-June period.


Several states with the nation’s highest overdose deaths appear to be behind the improved national payout this year, said Brandon Marshall, a public health researcher at Brown University who tracks the trends.

Officials in the four states said there was no single explanation, but they believe the latest steps may be paying off. They cite social media and awareness campaigns, the expansion of drug treatment and the wider availability of naloxone, which reverses the effects of an overdose.

Some researchers doubt that overdoses have peaked in the United States. Instead, they believe that during the COVID-19 pandemic, lockdowns and other health restrictions have isolated people who use drugs and made treatment difficult.

We are simply going back to pre-Covid levels. I think we need at least a year of additional data to confirm this.

Erin Winstanley, researcher at West Virginia University

The numbers are still nowhere near pre-pandemic levels. Nationally, the estimated number of deaths from July 2021 to June 2022 is still more than 5% higher than the number from July 2020 to June 2021, and from July 2019 to June 2020 28% more than the number of

Researchers have already seen these “false plateaus”: overdose deaths stabilized for several months in the spring of 2021, before increasing.

There may be lessons to be learned from 2018 as well. There were nearly 67,000 drug overdose deaths in the United States that year, a 4% decrease from 2017. The numbers are in – President Donald Trump has announced: “We are tackling the opioid epidemic. “.

But some University of Pittsburgh researchers later concluded that the improvement was largely due to a 2017 change in Chinese regulations on the powerful carfentanil, a synthetic opioid 100 times stronger than fentanyl. This change has reduced the US supply of the drug, and several states have seen dramatic declines in overdose deaths.

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