For the first time since 1990, there was a decrease in the number of drug overdose-related deaths. According to the CDC, overdose-related deaths declined 5.1% from 2017 to 2018. The current drop is due to fewer deaths from heroin and prescription painkillers—but it’s not all good news.

Despite the overall decrease in these deaths nationwide, the opioid crisis is still in full swing—mostly due to the uptick in fentanyl usage, as well as cocaine, methamphetamines, and other dangerous drugs.

Since the CDC issued strict federal guidelines regarding prescribing opioids, many doctors have reduced the number of prescriptions they write—or stopped prescribing them at all. Experts cite this more cautious prescribing of opioid painkillers as a significant driving force behind the decline in deaths in 2018.

Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said that the data shows “that America’s united efforts to curb opioid use disorder and addiction are working.” He also noted that the number of patients receiving medication-assisted treatment has increased, distribution of overdose-reversing drugs is up, while nationwide opioid prescriptions are down.

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However, even with nationwide deaths down, many states experienced a frightening increase in overdose related deaths. In fact—18 states saw a year-over-year increase. Even more concerning—there’s no real geographic sense to the states that saw an uptick. Vermont, Missouri, Delaware, South Carolina, and Arizona saw the biggest increases. And in Missouri, this increase is especially devastating.

Over the last few years, Missouri has received $65 million in federal grants in an attempt tor relieve the worst of the opioid crisis’s effects—to no avail. Despite saturating clinics and other opioid aid centers with naloxone—the opiate overdose antidote—the state saw a whopping 16.3% increase in overdose related deaths in 2018 alone. Fentanyl in particular has been cited as a factor in the swift rise in overdose related deaths in recent years. The synthetic opioid is anywhere from 10 to 20 times more potent than heroin and is often being laced into other drugs, drastically increasing the risk of accidental overdose and death.

Director Azar addressed this disparity as well, saying, “While the declining trend of overdose deaths is an encouraging sign, 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.”

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Laura Slade

Written by Laura Slade