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US drug overdose deaths fall for the first time since 1990, CDC data reveal

US drug overdose deaths fall for the first time since 1990, CDC data reveal

  • In 2018, an estimated 68,557 Americans died of drug overdoses, according to new provisional data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  • That represents a seven percent drop from 2017’s overdose death rate 
  • Overdose deaths have been steadily rising from 1990 until now
  • Health officials have been scrambling to reduce opioid prescriptions and distribute the overdose reversal drug, naloxone

Drug overdose death rates are down for the first time since 1990, new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data reveal. 

Halfway through 2018, the overdose death rate was 21.9 per every 100,000 deaths, a nearly seven percent drop from the year before. 

Driven by the opioid epidemic, drug overdoses claimed the lives of more than 70,200 and health officials have questioned when the tide would finally turn. 

Now, overdose deaths may at last be slowing down after years of efforts to cut prescription painkillers and distribute naloxone, the overdose reversal drug. 

It’s barely perceptible, but the combined three- and 12-month drug overdose death rates (blue and green, respectively) have finally, steadily dipped, a CDC graph shows 

During the first two quarters of 2018 and the last quarter of 2017, the overdose death rate held steady. 

At first, officials cautioned the drop could just be a blip. 

But now that it’s held steady for months consecutively, the data carry a little more weight. 

Every year since 2010, drug overdose deaths have set a new record. 

Drug overdose deaths have surpassed the peak of the AIDS crisis, in 1995, the record highest rate of gun deaths, in 2017, and the highest number of car crashes in a single year, 1972. 

Overdoses – especially of potent painkillers like heroin, OxyContin and fentanyl – killed more Americans in two years than the entire Vietnam war did. 

The opioid epidemic is even responsible for driving American life expectancy down in the US for the last three years in a row – a first since 

At 68,557, the number of people who died of overdoses last year is still higher than any of those records, but at least it thus far suggests we may finally be gaining some ground in the fight against the opioid epidemic. 

In October 2017, President Trump declared the opioid epidemic a public health emergency and vaguely promised funds and awareness campaigns. 

Nearly two years later, what that declaration has bought us isn’t entirely clear, with the exception of a promised $530 million study that provides grants to hard-hit areas to treat opioid addiction, formalized in May. 

Experts are grateful for the step in the right direction, though many say it falls short of what is needed to fight the opioid epidemic in earnest. 

On the other hand, state, county and even city initiatives to distribute more naloxone, the live-saving overdose reversal drug have been widely credited for cutting the number of drug deaths.