The good news is that deaths from drug overdoses in America have been falling slightly for the past six months, granting a reprieve from what seemed like an opioid epidemic with no end in sight. The bad news is that no one knows why, or if this trend will continue.
Preliminary figures reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week show that compared with the 12 months ending September 2017, opioid deaths are down 2.8 percent in the 12 months that ended March 2018, reflecting about 2,000 fewer people who have died of a drug overdose. But, as the Associated Press points out, the final numbers for this year won’t be available until the end of next year, so we don’t know if this downward trend has continued.
At an event this week, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar called the decline not the end of the epidemic, but “perhaps the end of the beginning.”
While we don’t know why deaths have begun to fall, experts say there are a few likely reasons. Doctors are prescribing fewer painkillers. More states are making naloxone, which reverses opioid overdoses, widely available. And it’s possible that more addicts have started medication-assisted therapies like buprenorphine, which is how France solved its own opioid epidemic years ago. Indeed, the states with the biggest declines in overdose deaths were those like Vermont that have used evidence-based, comprehensive approaches to tackling opioid addiction.