U.S. Opioid Overdose Deaths Leveling Off After Pandemic Spike: CDC

Opioid overdose deaths still at levels higher than rates before the pandemic.

After reaching record-levels of fatal drug overdoses during the COVID-19 pandemic, fatalities associated with drug overdoses in the United States have dipped in recent months, according to new federal data.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Center for Health Statistics released new data earlier this month, on drug overdose death rates. The Vital Statistics Rapid Release report details a 2% drop in fatal drug overdoses over the past 12 months ending July 2022.

CDC researchers determined more than 107,000 people in the U.S. died of a drug overdose between August 2021 and July 2022. This means 2,500 fewer people died from drug overdoses during that time than the record high rates of overdose deaths during the pandemic.

The highest number of overdoses was reported in the 12 month period ending March 2022, with a total of 110,000 overdose deaths reported during that one-year period.

The data from the new report indicates drug overdose deaths have slowed, leading to a 2% drop.

Fatal Drug Overdoses Still At Historic Highs

Despite the decrease, fatal overdoses are still high compared to data from other time periods. From 2019 to 2020, overdoses increased by 31%, according to the CDC’s findings.

In July, rates of annual drug overdose deaths were 25% higher than they were two years prior. Yet, this is still 50% higher than the rates from five years earlier, the researchers warn.

The report also suggests that the kinds of drugs involved in deadly overdoses have changed. Now, synthetic opioids, mostly deadly fentanyl, make up more than two-thirds of fatal overdoses. Five years ago, fentanyl accounted for about half of overdoses. Opioids overall make up two-thirds of all drug overdose deaths in the U.S., according to the new data.

CDC researchers also found methamphetamines are involved in one-third of deadly overdoses now. Methamphetamine and fentanyl are often used together with other drugs, including heroin and cocaine. Five years ago, fentanyl and meth were half as likely to be involved in fatal overdoses.

New Overdose Tracking Program

The Biden Administration recently announced a new dashboard to track nonfatal opioid overdoses. Officials hope that by using real-time data on nonfatal opioid overdoses, they may be able to better predict where overdose deaths are more likely to occur.

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This could allow them to supply first responders with additional doses of naloxone, an drug overdose medication, to prevent overdose deaths.

There were 390,000 emergency medical response activations involving naloxone nationwide in the 12-month period ending in July. There were four naloxone emergency responses for every one fatal overdose in the same timeframe, suggesting the drug’s use may be extremely effective at saving lives.

In light of the changes in recent years involving opioid use and abuse, the FDA still considers the opioid crisis a national public health emergency, and finding ways to reduce fatal overdoses is a government priority.

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