Opioid overdose deaths rise sharply in the US

Written by By Keith Naughton, CNN

Despite an overall decline in overdose deaths over the past five years, there was a marked rise in opioid deaths reported in 2018, according to preliminary data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The first nine months of 2018 saw another record-high 13,100 opioid overdose deaths, an increase of four percent over the same period in 2017. The estimated rate of opioid overdose deaths in the country was 48 deaths per 100,000 people, up from 43.8 in 2017.

According to new data released by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the drug most commonly involved in overdose deaths, oxycodone, more than doubled its use in the last five years. In 2012, oxycodone had accounted for about 6% of deaths related to opioids. By 2016, this figure rose to nearly 13%.

Opioids include illicitly manufactured drugs like heroin and synthetic opioids like fentanyl and carfentanil. In 2017, more people died of opioid overdoses than from any other illicit drug, including cocaine, heroin and methamphetamines.

Largest supplier of fentanyl seized in a single shipment

Synthetic opioids may be entering the country via mail or commercial shipping containers and container shipping containers can hold up to 2,200 pounds of pure fentanyl, or 1,000 pounds of some other synthetic opioid.

The overall increase in opioid overdose deaths in the US may be a reflection of greater use of pharmaceutical drugs and the growth of synthetic opioids such as fentanyl and carfentanil, according to senior scientist Daniel M. Greene of the NIDA, who led the new study.

“Larger doses of opioid-related substances, such as fentanyl, were detected in overdose fatalities, and drugs obtained through illicit methods like street sales increased, as well as pills from prescriptions,” Greene said in a statement.

According to preliminary data, there were about seven opioid-related deaths for every 100,000 people in 2016. This figure increased to nine deaths per 100,000 people in 2017 and is projected to rise to 12 deaths per 100,000 in 2018.

A large increase in opioid overdose deaths has been seen in black and Hispanic populations, according to NIDA data. The rate of overdose deaths among Hispanics, the largest non-Hispanic race group in the US, is projected to increase from 38.2 per 100,000 people in 2017 to 48.4 per 100,000 in 2018. In contrast, the rate for black people is projected to rise from 16.5 per 100,000 people in 2017 to 28.9 per 100,000 in 2018.

Federal funding is needed

“These alarming figures underscore the urgency of protecting the American people and combating the epidemic,” said acting US Health and Human Services Secretary Eric Hargan in a statement. “We must put a stop to this madness, and we will. Congress must do its part by working with the Administration to fund programs that are effective in reducing opioid misuse and overdose.”

A 2017 CDC assessment of progress made toward addressing the opioid epidemic identified implementation of evidence-based public health strategies, widespread communication of overdose prevention messages, including alternatives to prescription opioids, and investment in expanding access to treatment as factors that contributed to the reduction in overdose deaths in 2017 and 2016.

However, the report noted, “no silver bullet to reverse this national opioid epidemic is in sight.”

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