For the first time in over three decades, it looks like opioid overdose deaths are declining, but we still have a long way to go.
According to provisional data from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, we may be in for a change. While officials are still counting fatalities, the CDC’s data from November 2017 to November 2018 counted 69,100 deaths from drug overdose compared to 72,300 from November 2016 to November 2017 – the highest ever for a single year. In the 3 decades since, drug overdoses have killed approximately 870,000 people.
Overdose Deaths Are Declining
While opioid overdose deaths may be on the decline, it doesn’t mean the epidemic has been won.
“The opioid crisis is in early remission, yet at high risk of relapse,” said Jim Hall, an epidemiologist at Nova Southeastern University in Florida.
The picture is still bleak — overdose deaths are still much higher than “in the peak of the crack-cocaine crisis decades ago,” The Wall Street Journal reported.
Though, while the decrease in numbers show a raise in professionals’ eyebrows, the waning numbers could be a sign that some of the new methods for combatting overdose prove to be working. Particularly, wider availability to the opioid reversal drug, Naloxone, which once administered can reverse the effects of overdose.
In April 2018, Surgeon General Jerome M. Adams, MD, issued a call for more people to carry naloxone. Shortly after, the FDA approved the first generic nasal spray version of naloxone.
“Too Soon To Declare Victory”
“It seems that we may have reached a peak in the epidemic,” said Robert N Anderson, PhD, chief, Mortality Statistics Branch, National Center for Health Statistics, CDC, in an email to The American Journal of Managed Care®. “That email said, the number of deaths for 2018 is still predicted to be nearly 70,000. That is a lot of people dying much too young. Even if the decline holds once the data are final, it is too soon to declare victory.”
While some eager health professionals are looking at the data with “cautious optimism,” others still feel that we’re nowhere out of the woods and are still in the same crisis that took off like a rocket a decade ago.
James McDonald, the medical director of the state health department of Rhode Island – a state that has aggressively pushed efforts to combat fatal overdoses said: “There’s no one around here celebrating anything.”
Despite the tenuous progress, one year won’t make up for the 30-year continuous rise of deaths, and unfortunately, the epidemic is still ending lives. However with a continuous push for change in legislator and wider availability of reversal drugs like Naloxone, and easier access to treatment, we may be onto something.