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Fewer drug overdose deaths reported in the US last year



Fewer drug overdose deaths reported in the US last year

NEW YORK (AP) — The number of fatal overdoses in the U.S. fell last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention facts posted on Wednesday.

Agency officials noted that the data is preliminary and could change after further analysis, but that they still expect a decline once the final counts are in. It would be only the second annual decline since the current national drug death epidemic began more than three decades ago.

Experts responded cautiously. One described the decline as relatively small and said it should be seen as part of a leveling off rather than a decline. Another noted that the last time there was a decline – in 2018 – drug deaths skyrocketed in the years that followed.

“Any decline is encouraging,” said Brandon Marshall, a researcher at Brown University who studies overdose trends. “But I think it’s certainly premature to celebrate or to draw any wholesale conclusions about where we can go in the long term with this crisis.”

It’s also too early to know what caused the decline, Marshall and other experts said. Explanations could include shifts in drug supply, expansion of overdose prevention and addiction treatment, and the grim possibility that the epidemic has killed so many people that there are now actually fewer people to kill.

CDC Chief Medical Officer Dr. Deb Houry called the dip “encouraging news” and praised efforts to reduce the numbers, but she noted that “there are still families and friends losing their loved ones to overdoses in staggering numbers.”

About 107,500 people died of an overdose in the U.S. last year, including both U.S. citizens and noncitizens who were in the country at the time they died, the CDC estimates. That’s down 3% from 2022, when there were an estimated 111,000 such deaths, the agency said.

The drug overdose epidemic, which has killed more than 1 million people since 1999, has had many ripple effects. For example, a study Published last week in JAMA Psychiatry estimated that between 2011 and 2021, more than 321,000 American children lost a parent to a fatal drug overdose.

“These children need support” and are themselves at greater risk for mental health and substance abuse problems, said Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which helped lead the study. “It’s not just the loss of one person. It is also the implications that the loss has for the family left behind.”

Prescription painkillers were once the cause of the country’s overdose epidemic, but were replaced years ago by heroin and more recently by illegal fentanyl. The dangerously powerful opioid was developed to treat intense pain from conditions such as cancer, but is increasingly being mixed with other drugs in the illicit drug supply.

For years, fentanyl was widely injected, but increasingly it is smoked or mixed into counterfeit pills.

a study The study released last week shows that seizures of pills containing fentanyl by law enforcement are increasing dramatically, from 44 million in 2022 to more than 115 million last year.

It’s possible that the seizures indicate that the overall supply of fentanyl-laced pills is growing rapidly, and not necessarily that police are reducing the supply of illegal drugs, said one of the paper’s authors, Dr. Daniel Ciccarone of the University of California, San Francisco. .

He noted that the decline in overdoses was not uniform. All but two states in the eastern half of the US saw a decrease, but most western states saw an increase. Alaska, Washington and Oregon each saw a 27% increase.

The reason? Many eastern states have been dealing with fentanyl for about a decade, while it has recently reached western states, Ciccarone said.

Still, some researchers say there are reasons to be optimistic. It’s possible that smoking fentanyl isn’t as deadly as injecting it, but scientists are still investigating that question.

Meanwhile, more money is becoming available to treat addiction and prevent overdoses, through government funding and also through legal settlements with drug makers, wholesalers and pharmacies, Ciccarone noted.

“I hope 2023 is the beginning of a turning point,” he said.

AP Medical Writer Carla K. Johnson contributed to this report.

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Science and Educational Media Group. The AP is solely responsible for all content.