It’s the news no one wanted to hear but many knew was coming. Preliminary data on American overdose deaths has yielded a tragic and nauseating revelation regarding the state of drug use throughout the country. Early estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) put the 2017 overdose fatality rate at around 72,000, up more than 8,000 from last year’s figure of approximately 63,600. The death toll is higher than the peak yearly death totals from H.I.V., car crashes or gun deaths, making drug overdose a leading public health concern in the United States.
What’s Behind the Spike?
Experts attribute the nearly 10 percent increase in American overdose deaths to a few distinct factors, including the continued rise in opioid addiction and the increased potency of drugs. One of the primary drivers of the uptick is the synthetic opioid Fentanyl, which is said to be 100 times more potent than pure morphine. Deaths caused by synthetic opioids have risen from a little over 5,000 in 2015 to close to 30,000 in 2017. The infiltration of fentanyl and other synthetic opioids into heroin supplies sold in the United States is causing more and more Americans to die at a quicker rate.
Much of the public is aware of the role that heroin and prescription painkillers have played in the consistent escalation of drug overdose deaths; however, new and more powerful synthetic opioids are quickly supplanting the aforementioned drugs as the primary catalyst for the epidemic. Fentanyl has also found its way into batches of methamphetamine, cocaine and black-market benzodiazepines.
More People Are Vulnerable Every Day
In addition to the rise in American overdose deaths, more and more people are still living with substance use disorder and having their lives destroyed by it every day. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health revealed that over two million Americans are currently living with opioid use disorder, a number many experts argue is conservative given the unwillingness of many participants to self-report. The survey also indicated that over 20 million suffered from substance use disorder in general, including alcohol and all illicit drugs. The percentage of SUD sufferers who suffer specifically from opioid use disorder (around 10) is roughly the same number of SUD sufferers who actually receive effective treatment.
Is There Any Good News?
Deaths from non-synthetic opioids made modest declines, possibly signifying that it’s not the amount of drug use that are causing these deaths; rather than the potency of the drugs that are being used. Additionally, there are more and more institutional resources going into prevention. Last year, the Trump Administration declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency and states have been using funds from a $1 billion pool that was set aside to address the issue. Opioid deaths rose considerably in historically problematic states like Ohio, West Virginia and Indiana. One of the sharpest increases came in New Jersey, which saw a 27 percent uptick.
Continuing and Strengthening the Fight
These admittedly demoralizing numbers may make it seem like all hope is lost in the fight against American overdose deaths; however, legislators, law enforcement and prevention advocates are doing more than ever to ensure that this trend starts getting reversed for 2018. More money is going toward treatment and prevention; bad actors are being held to higher levels of accountability and congress is exploring multiple legislative avenues to combat the opioid crisis. These numbers are, thus far, an estimate and a tally of confirmed cases; however, many deaths take longer to investigate than others, which means there may be even more on the horizon.