While the opioid epidemic is still a serious problem in the United States, the crisis is no longer rising, NBC News reports. Health Secretary Alex Azar announced this new information at a health care event in Washington on Tuesday, October 23.
“We are so far from the end of the epidemic, but we are perhaps at the end of the beginning,” Azar said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 70,000 U.S. citizens died from a drug overdose in 2017. This is a 10 percent increase from 2016. Azar said in his speech Tuesday that he believed government intervention was helping to prevent the epidemic from increasing. Bills that provide funding for treatment was passed by both Barack Obama and Donald Trump. Treatment options such as the medicines buprenorphine and naltrexone are shown to help people in recovery, especially alongside receiving support from loved ones and mental health professionals.
While opioid overdoses are beginning to plateau, they are not yet lowering — 48,000 people were killed last year due to opioids. However, the increase in use lowered from 10 percent to 3 percent this past year, CDC stated. Unfortunately, it has been documented that overdoses involving other drugs such as fentanyl, cocaine, and methamphetamines are on the rise.
Research conducted by the Associated Press showed that the Affordable Care Act was also making a difference in helping people with lower incomes receive the treatment they need. States that have expanded Medicaid have been documented to spend their opioid grant money from Congress to help addicts in a more in-depth way rather than just the “basics.”
As we consider those currently struggling with addiction, we know efforts to support treatment at the state, local and community level are having a real effect. From '15 to '17, we saw a statistically significant decline in the number of Americans who misuse prescription opioids.
— Secretary Alex Azar (@SecAzar) October 23, 2018
It’s important to note that the findings of the CDC’s study are preliminary results, and that drug overdoses may not all be properly accounted for yet. They will provide a more accurate number at the end of 2018 so the public can get a full picture of the direction the opioid crisis is headed. So far, however, the numbers are predicting that the U.S. will hopefully see a decline in overdose deaths. Bob Anderson, a senior statistician with the National Center of Health Statistics, believes that while we might see a decrease in drug use, it has already taken very many lives such as other epidemics of the past.
“It appears at this point that we may have reached a peak and we may start to see a decline,” said Anderson. “This reminds me of what we saw with HIV in the ’90s.”
Advocates for recovery are trying to have a positive outlook on solving the crisis, and are reportedly pleased that raising awareness is showing people how addiction can be a disease and affect the function of the brain. They feel that by showing more sympathy for drug addicts, the U.S. will provide more treatment options and save more lives.