Health Care

Drug overdose deaths fall for first time in almost 30 years

Drug overdose deaths fell for the first time in 28 years in 2018, a sign of progress in the fight against the opioid epidemic, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

Still, the number of drug overdose deaths remains high. There were 67,367 overdose deaths in 2018, the CDC said, down 4.1 percent from the year before. 

Deaths from prescription painkillers are declining, as policymakers have called attention to the issue and taken steps to restrict overprescribing. 

But overdose deaths from other kinds of drugs, in particular illegal synthetic opioids like fentanyl, as well as cocaine, are still increasing. 

Fentanyl overdose deaths increased by 10 percent from 2017 to 2018, and cocaine overdoses tripled from 2012 to 2018, from 1.4 to 4.5 per 100,000 people. 

The overall drop is a sign of progress, though, one touted by the Trump administration. 

“This news is a real victory, and it should be a source of encouragement for all Americans who have been committed to connecting people struggling with substance abuse to treatment and recovery,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. “The drop in overdose deaths shows that the President’s new level of focus on the opioid crisis, and the administration’s science- and community-based efforts to combat it, are beginning to make a significant difference.”

But, he noted, “our work is far from finished.”

Fighting the opioid crisis has received bipartisan support in Congress, including a package of smaller bills passed in 2018. Funding has also been rising, though some Democrats and advocates are calling for a larger-scale government response. 


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