Drug Overdoses Drop for the First Time Since 1990
Health officials urge cautious optimism over the decrease in prescription opioid deaths.
There is positive news in the fight against the opioid epidemic. New government data shows that overdose deaths in the United States were down by 5 percent in 2018, the first drop since 1990.
While a drop is significant, doctors and public health experts say it is too soon to determine if this is the start of a larger trend.
"It looks like there's a light at the end of the tunnel," Dr. Andrew Kolodny, the co-director of opioid policy research at Brandeis University, told the New York Times . "There's nothing to celebrate, because the death toll is still very high."
According to the Times, the drop in deaths came almost entirely from fewer prescription drug overdoses. Fatal overdoses of fentanyl and methamphetamines continued to rise.
There were 68,557 fatal overdoses in 2018. And while that is a decrease, it is still more deaths than the peak years of deaths due to car crashes (1972), HIV (1995), and gun deaths (2017).
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said in a statement that the new data showed "that America's united efforts to curb opioid use disorder and addiction are working...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."
A study conducted earlier this year by researchers at Penn State and other universities found that unused prescriptions by friends and family were the most common route to opioid addiction. The researchers said their findings underscored the importance of secure drug drop-off locations so that patients can safely dispose of their unused or expired medication.