It's a Rare Something to Celebrate Amid Fentanyl Crisis

Overdose deaths decline for first time since 2018
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted May 15, 2024 2:48 PM CDT
It's a Rare Something to Celebrate Amid Fentanyl Crisis
A container of Narcan, or naloxone, sits on tree roots at a longstanding homeless encampment near Walmart, Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024, in Bellingham, Wash.   (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)

There's a glimmer of hope in the ongoing drug crisis powered by fentanyl. Overdose deaths declined in 2023 for the first time in five years, though the drop was only slight, according to CDC estimates. There were 107,500 deaths, down 3% from 111,029 in 2022, preliminary data shows. The decrease doesn't look like much when considered against the 30% spike in overdose deaths reported around 2020, CNN reports. "Overdose deaths in 2023 were still almost twice as high as they were five years ago," the outlet notes. And it's the third year in a row they number more than 100,000. Still, the slight drop offers something to celebrate as it's only the second decline since the 1990s.

"It is a hopeful trend in some ways," Columbia University epidemiology professor Dr. Katherine Keyes tells CNN. But "it is certainly not a sign that we need to take the foot off the gas of overdose prevention." The decrease may be tied to the distribution of naloxone and popularity of test strips that detect the presence of fentanyl in a drug, the New York Times reports. Prevention efforts do appear to be working in Indiana, Nebraska, Kansas, and Maine, where overdose deaths fell more than 15% in 2023, per Axios. Alaska, Washington, and Oregon, however, saw increases of at least 27%, which could be related to fentanyl's slow spread east to west across the country.

Some 74,702 overdose deaths in 2023 involved synthetic opioids like fentanyl, down from 76,226 in 2022, per Axios and the Times. Keyes suggests that's due to treatments for opioid use disorder, greater availability of naloxone, and fewer opioid prescriptions. "I think that has been a real success story for public health," she tells CNN. On the flip side, overdose deaths tied to cocaine climbed 5% to nearly 30,000, and those tied to psychostimulants like methamphetamine climbed 2% to more than 36,000, per CNN. Less than 4% of overdose deaths involved heroin, which is less potent than fentanyl and also more time-consuming to produce. (More drug overdose stories.)

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