A drug overdose is the ingestion or application of a drug or other substance in quantities greater than are recommended. An overdose may result in a toxic state or death. In the US, it causes more deaths than gun violence, car accidents, or H.I.V. For almost three decades, the number of overdose deaths increased unabated. However, a recent government report saw a slight decrease in overdose deaths last year, marking the first decline in drug mortality rates since 1990.
According to Leo Beletsky, a professor of law and health sciences at the Northeastern University, this drop calls for a celebration, even though it is little more than a 2% decrease. This is because in the past years, instead of seeing decreases, double digit increases were observed. According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, overdose deaths were down from 70,237 in 2017 to 68,557 in 2018. But the estimated numbers subjected to change since drug overdose deaths are often reported “pending investigation” without a cause of death. The final results will not be released for several months.
Some reports state that the decrease in overdose deaths is the result of a decline in opioid painkillers, which have been less widely prescribed in recent years. But Beletsky is doubtful. It showed a decrease in deaths related to opioid painkillers and an increase in deaths related to illicit opioids. Beletsky further comments, “We’ve been seeing this trend since about 2008. As efforts to restrict prescription opioids has succeeded, a lot of people have moved on to using street drugs, which has been a main driver of overdose”.
In terms of treatment and prevention, Beletsky says emphasizes on proven solutions like naloxone and methadone or buprenorphine. In general though, Beletsky says that the approach to solving this overdose crisis needs to be more holistic.
“We need to address the underlying problems. The truth is, people experience pain. We need to make sure they have adequate access to healthcare,” he concludes.
Shahjadi Jemim Rahman