Opioids are still, it appears, the prime killer drugs in the United States. A recent report released by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention shows that almost 25 percent of all drug overdoses in the year 2015 were caused by Heroin, CNN reported. In contrast, only 6 percent of all overdoses in 1999 were related to Heroin.
The report released on Friday showed that opioids in general were responsible for over 60 percent of all overdose related deaths in 2015. The number is an increase from the 50 percent in 2010. Heroin, oxycodone and fentanyl are all categorized as opioids, owing to their similar chemical structure.
Dr. Holly Hedegaard of the National Center for Health Statistics was one of the researchers who conducted the study. According to her, for the first time ever, the number of overdose related deaths in the United States had exceeded 50,000 in 2015. In contrast, there were 38,329 deaths from drug overdose in 2010. The 52,404 deaths from overdose in 2015 is even more than the 36,252 deaths by firearm that year.
There was also a noted increase in the number of deaths by another synthetic opioid, Fentanyl. The drug which was responsible for the death of musician Prince in 2016 was responsible for 18 percent of all deaths by overdose in 2015, in contrast to the 8 percent from 2010. There was however a noted decrease in deaths involving natural and semisynthetic opioids, such as oxycodone and hydrocodone. While these drugs were responsible for 29 percent of all drug overdose related deaths in 2010, the numbers went down to 24 percent in 2015. Experts believe that the shift in these numbers can be attributed to many users switching to heroin owing to the increase in cost and crackdowns on the illicit use of prescription drugs. However, accounting for the net overall increase in drug overdose related deaths, there were still around a 1000 more people who died of these drugs in 2015 than in 2010.
Dr. Andrew Kolodny of Brandeis University’s Opioid Policy Research Center believes that the increase in deaths by heroin could be related to the increase in deaths by fentanyl.
“Starting in 2011, overdoses involving heroin has really skyrocketed. There’s a really good chance the increase involving heroin has to be involved with fentanyl.”
Dr. Larissa Mooney of the University of California Los Angeles’ Addiction Medicine Clinic believes that this study showcases the need to invest more in opioid addiction treatment.
“We need to improve access to treatment and remove barriers.”
State governments across the United States and the United States federal government have been working hard to deter America’s opioid epidemic. Only earlier this month, the Governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, passed a law that limits the initial prescriptions of opioids to only five days. Arizona has passed a similar law, which restricts initial prescriptions of opioids to seven days.
There was $1 billion dedicated towards tackling America’s opioid epidemic, when Congress passed its 21st Century Cures Act in 2016. Part of the $1 billion dollar would be spent on expanding buprenorphine treatments.
Buprenorphine treatments have become a popular form of Opioid dependency treatment owing to the fact that unlike Methadone, which has to be administered in a clinical setting, Buprenorphine can be provided outside the clinic, hence making it relatively more effective. However, the effectiveness of the treatment is still debatable owing to a survey by the Addiction journal that showed that 43 percent of all Buprenorphine users take opioids during the treatment and 67 percent of them take opioids following the treatment. Dr. Caleb Alexander, an Associate Professor of Epidemiology and Medicine at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, summarizes the problem as follows:
“The bottom line: It’s no surprise that some people receiving buprenorphine are also receiving prescriptions of other opioids, but we were surprised by the number of patients receiving buprenorphine and other opioids.”
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