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Data shows slight drop in US drug overdose deaths

July 18, 2019

Drug overdose deaths in the US have dropped for the first time in two decades, according to preliminary data. The drop was due to a decline in deaths from prescription opoid painkillers.

USA Ohio - Bewusstlose Eltern nach Überdosis Heroin mit Kind im Auto
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/East Liverpool Police Department

Drug overdose deaths in the United States declined by 5.1% in 2018, according to preliminary data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday.

There were an estimated 68,557 deaths last year, down from 72,224 in 2017.

Read more: US opioid crisis sees average life expectancy in America to fall for second year in a row

If the numbers hold, this will be the first drop in overdose deaths in two decades.

Overdose deaths have been steadily rising since the 1990s. In 1999 there were 16,849 overdose deaths, a number that steadily rose with a jump of 5,000 deaths each year between 2014 and 2017.

Experts attribute the US opioid crisis to the over prescription of addictive painkillers.

US Secretary of Health and Human services Alex Azar welcomed the apparent downtrend.

"The latest provisional data on overdose deaths show that America's united efforts to curb opioid use disorder and addiction are working. Lives are being saved, and we're beginning to win the fight against this crisis," Azar wrote on Twitter.

Preliminary data showed deaths from natural and semi-synthetic opioid prescribed painkillers, such as morphine, codeine, oxycodone, hydrocodone, hydromorphone and oxymorphone, fell from 14,926 to 12,757, or 14.5%.

Deaths from synthetic opioids excluding methadone, such as tramadol and fentanyl, continued to rise, while cocaine deaths also increased slightly.

Many overdose deaths are caused by by combining drugs. Some users addicted to prescription pain relievers turn to street drugs such as heroin to feed their addiction.

In 2017, an estimated 1.7 million people in the United States suffered from substance use addiction caused by the prescription of opioid pain relievers, and another 652,00 had heroin addictions.

cw/bw (AFP, AP)

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