International Overdose Awareness Day is August 31st. Recognized around the globe, this day is designed to raise awareness of drug overdose, stimulate discussions about overdose prevention, and honor those who have been affected by drug-related deaths. As we know, drug overdose is a devasting outcome of substance abuse, and it can happen to anyone – seasoned or new users – who is abusing drugs. Especially now, amidst the opioid crisis.
In 2017, the number of drug overdose deaths in the United States reached an all-time, record high. Specifically, more than 70,000 Americans died from an overdose that year, marking a two-fold increase in a single decade. For years, the number of overdoses in our country has increased precipitously, as dangerous synthetic substances and fentanyl-laced drugs have become a thing of the present. Like many people out there, you may wonder, “When is it going to get better?”
According to new data from the Center of Disease Control, it’s possible the tables have already started to turn. Just last month, the CDC released a preliminary report of estimated drug overdose deaths in 2018 – under 68,000 reported drug overdoses for the year. This is a 4.2% decline from 2017, and if the provisional data holds true, it would be the first drop we’ve seen in decades for overdose deaths.
While, at large, these drug overdose trends seem to show good news, there are still some major caveats to consider. For one, this data is preliminary and therefore subject to change. Secondly, it’s important to note that overdose deaths from synthetic opioids specifically (such as fentanyl) are still trending upwards. Based on the CDC’s same preliminary data, there were an estimated 32,000 overdose deaths involving a synthetic opioid – i.e. man-made chemical drugs – in 2018 alone. This is up from more than 29,000 the year prior. Deaths linked to cocaine and psychostimulants, like methamphetamine, also increased last year, likely due to these substances being laced with other, dangerous chemicals.
Meanwhile, overdose deaths involving a prescription painkiller declined in 2018. According to the New York Times (who first reported this data), the drop in prescription painkiller overdoses was almost entirely accountable for the overall decline in U.S. overdose deaths. National efforts support this: closer monitoring of prescription opioids, limiting opioid prescriptions, and specialized training for opioid prescribers were all list-items on President Trump’s plan to address the overdose crisis. Combined with the increased access to Naloxone, an opioid overdose reversal drug, it’s very possible that deaths from prescription opioids will continue to fall in 2019. However, that doesn’t mean we stop here.
The United States still has an alarmingly high overdose death rate. With a count of 68,000 fatal drug overdoses, 2018 would be the second-worst year for drug overdose deaths in U.S. history. This figure exceeds the nation’s peak number of annual deaths from car crashes, HIV/AIDS, or guns. It exceeds the number of U.S. soldiers who died in the Vietnam War. It represents far too many losses, and a greater need for increased access to treatment, increased prevention efforts, and increased awareness about drug abuse.
For example, fentanyl is still a massive contributor to the overdose crisis in America, and we must increase awareness around this dangerous drug. The CDC’s provisional data suggests that nearly 32,000 overdoses (close to 50 percent of overdoses in 2018) involved fentanyl last year. This drug is 100 times more potent than morphine, 50 times stronger than heroin, and is intensified even further once combined with other drugs. Too often, users ingest fentanyl accidentally, or unknowingly, because it is laced into other drugs. We saw this with Prince’s overdose death in 2016, with rapper Lil Peep’s overdose in 2017, and with Mac Miller’s overdose in 2018. And these are just some of the headlining stories. Thousands more are overdosing in communities across the United States.
Alex M. Azar II, the U.S. secretary of Health and Human Services, said in a statement that the new data shows “America’s united efforts to curb opioid use disorder and addiction are working.” However, he added, “By no means have we declared victory against the epidemic or addiction in general. This crisis developed over two decades, and it will not be solved overnight.”
This is especially true for certain states throughout the U.S. While drug overdose deaths have shown some decline in the preliminary report, certain regions did not see such a positive fluctuation. Missouri, for example, saw a 17 percent increase in overdose deaths between 2017 and 2018. South Carolina, Vermont, Arizona, and Delaware also saw overdoses increase between 10 and 20 percent.
It’s clear that some areas of the United States are of greater concern when it comes to drug overdose trends. This may be due to higher drug availability in these areas, or a combination of related factors, such as a person’s home and surrounding environment. According to an analysis released by the CDC just days ago in August 2019, drug death rates are now highest in urban areas. This is a shift away from the normal trend. Historically, rural areas were associated with higher overdose death rates. But in 2017, this changed. There were 5.2 heroin-related overdose deaths for every 100,000 people in urban counties, versus 2.9 heroin-related fatalities for every 100,000 people in rural counties across the U.S. Similar drug overdose trends were seen for fentanyl and cocaine.
As we get closer to Overdose Awareness Day – and we get closer to mitigating the overdose crisis across the country – it’s important to keep these trends top-of-mind. It’s important to keep the reality of drug overdose top-of-mind. Every day, approximately 130 Americans die from a drug overdose. These people are adults and children, teenagers and young adults, from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds. And these deaths are preventable. Not just with a reversal drug like Narcan (Naloxone), but with education, with treatment, and with an increased awareness overall. Whether you are a clinician, a teacher, or a concerned loved one, it is incredibly important to know the dangers of drug abuse today. Even more, it is imperative to know the signs of drug overdose and addiction. Substance addiction is a chronic disease of the brain that requires intervention, active treatment, and ongoing management. If your loved one is facing a drug problem, he or she may not know the way out. You can make all the difference.
For more information about recent drug overdose trends, drug overdose potential, or drug addiction treatment, please do not hesitate to reach out to Turnbridge. Call 877-581-1793 to learn more.