• The worst year ever for overdose deaths Tuesday, January 2, 2018

    Add another lamentable statistic to the brutal year just past. Driven by the epidemic of opioid painkiller abuse, we saw more overdose deaths in the U.S. than any other in history during 2016.

    A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that more than 63,600 deaths in the U.S. were attributable to drug overdoses, a 21% jump from the prior year. The overdose rate from synthetic opioids like fenanyl – nearly 20,000 in 2016 – doubled in just a year. In total, the number of overdose deaths has now eclipsed the fatality rate during the worst year of the AIDS epidemic, when 43,000 Americans died from AIDS in 1995.


    Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

    Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

    Amid those dreary statistics, there is a modicum of good news from places like California that have instituted requirements that physicians check a prescription drug database to curb “doctor shopping” drug addicts seeking to score powerful pharmaceuticals. That requirement was pushed through by Consumer Attorneys of California and Bob Pack, a Bay Area father who began a decade-long push for change after his two children were run down by a opioid addicted motorist in 2003.

    California recorded one of the lowest overdose fatality rates, with 11.2 deaths per 100,000 residents. Only six other states had lower rates.

    On the grimmer end of the ledger, Florida had the most total overdose deaths with 4,728 while West Virginia had the highest percentage, with 52 per 100,000 residents.

    Meanwhile, the response at the federal level to the crisis has been all talk from President Donald Trump and little action.

    With some of the highest overdose rates popping up in states that supported Trump, the president this past summer declared an opioid national health emergency. But in the months since, the Trump Administration has done virtually nothing to back up that tough talk, according to public health experts on the front lines.

    The Trump White House took more than two months to officially file the paperwork to make the president’s declaration real, and in the end it came with no new funding from the federal government.

    “We are concerned that this comes without any new resources,” Laura Hansen of the National Association of County and City Health Officials said in a recent interview. She added that the overdose crisis is “a very complex multifaceted, long-term problem that is going to need a significant infusion of resources over a significant period of time” to reverse the deadly trend.

    As of now, most of the action is being taken at the state level. The Pew Charitable Trusts reports that at least 39 states now require health professionals to check prescription databases before authorizing highly addictive drugs such as Percocet, Vicodin and OxyContin. Those new rules have boosted physician participation in monitoring programs from less than 35% a few years ago to more than 90% today in states that require the database checks.

    In addition, Pew says that at least 47 states have begun sharing monitoring data to ensure that physicians aren’t prescribing to addicts who have crossed state lines to game the system.

    –Eric Bailey

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