Last year has usurped the dubious title from 2016 with the most lives claimed by drug overdoses ever.
According to a preliminary report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 72,000 people in the United States died from a drug overdose in 2017. The number translates to nearly 200 people lost per day.
This shatters the record previously held by the year 2016, which saw about 64,000 overdose deaths. In both 2016 and 2017, “at least” two-thirds of the deaths could be linked to the use of opioids.
For comparison, the number of drug overdose deaths in 2017 exceeds the number killed by guns, car accidents, or HIV/AIDS within the span of a single year. The number is also larger than the casualties in both the Vietnam and Iraq conflicts combined.
These figures are simply estimates, with more accurate figures due later. However, the CDC claims a trend is clear: the massive uptick is correlated to the rise of fentanyl.
Fentanyl is an opiate stronger than heroin, sometimes used to lace other opioid products. Its potency makes it a dangerous high, especially when added to heroin, especially east of the Mississippi. But apparently, this “trend” is moving West.
“Dr. [Chris] Jones said there is some early evidence that drug distributors are finding ways to mix fentanyl with black tar heroin, which could increase death rates in the West,” reported New York Times’ Margot Sanger-Katz. “If that becomes more widespread, the overdose rates in the West could explode as they have in parts of the East.”
Fentanyl has been exacerbating the already burgeoning opioid crisis in the United States. Experts say the crisis is a fixable one, with one solid step in the right direction being making access to addiction treatment more available.
In France, doctors were given the green light to prescribe buprenorphine in 1995, leading to a 79% decrease in opioid deaths in four years, Vox noted.
Another recommended step would be to enact harm reduction policies, including needle exchanges and making naloxone, the overdose reversal drug, more available. Such measures have resulted in steep drop-offs of deaths in states that have put such plans in place.
The Trump administration, however, has not made significant progress in these steps, according to Senator Elizabeth Warren.
“Experts and observers have concluded that your efforts to address the opioid crisis are ‘pathetic,’ and ‘ambiguous promises’ that are ‘falling far short of what is needed’ are ‘not… addressing the epidemic with the urgency it demands,’” she wrote in a letter to President Trump. “I agree, and I urge you to move quickly to address these problems.”