By Christine Vestal
New provisional data released this month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that drug overdose deaths declined in 14 states during the 12-month period that ended July 2017, a potentially hopeful sign that policies aimed at curbing the death toll may be working.
In an opioid epidemic that began in the late 1990s, drug deaths have been climbing steadily every year, in nearly every state. A break in that trend, even if limited to just 14 states, has prompted cautious optimism among some public health experts.
“It could be welcome news,” said Caleb Alexander, an epidemiologist and co-director of Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Drug Safety and Effectiveness.
“If we’re truly at a plateau or inflection point, it would be the best news all year,” he said. “But we’re still seeing rates of overdose that are leaps and bounds higher than what we were seeing a decade ago and far beyond any other country in the world.”
The reported drop in overdose deaths occurred in Wyoming, Utah, Washington, Alaska, Montana, Mississippi, Kansas, Rhode Island, Oregon, California, Tennessee, Massachusetts, Arizona and Hawaii. That compares with declines in only three states — Nebraska, Washington and Wyoming — reported for an earlier 12-month period that ended in January 2017.
But even as more states saw a drop in deaths, several saw death spikes of more than 30 percent, most likely due to the increasing presence of the deadly synthetic drug fentanyl in the illicit drug supply, drug experts say. Those are Delaware, Florida, New Jersey, Ohio and Pennsylvania, along with the District of Columbia.