U.S. Drug Overdose Deaths Drop for First Time Since 1990

New provisional data released on Wednesday from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicate an approximate five percent drop in total drug overdose deaths in 2018, the first decline in deaths since 1990. While the figures are subject to slight adjustments based on the finalization of data from the CDC, federal public health officials have suggested the tide may be beginning to turn on the precipitous three decades-long increase in drug overdose deaths throughout the U.S. The U.S. decline is attributed almost entirely to a decline in deaths due to prescription opioid painkillers. Overdose deaths involving other drugs, namely fentanyl and methamphetamine, continued to rise throughout the country.

Despite the slight decrease, the death toll remains high with more than 68,000 people dying from overdose in 2018. Additionally, drops in the number of overdose deaths were not uniform throughout the country. While many states realized significant declines in deaths, some states and regions saw double-digit increases. California realized a 6.6 percent increase in overdose deaths in 2018 according to the CDC’s provisional data.

This cautious sentiment was reflected in a statement on Wednesday by U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, indicating, “The latest provisional data on overdose deaths show that America’s united efforts to curb opioid use disorder and addiction are working. … While the declining trend of overdose deaths is an encouraging sign, by no means have we declared victory against the epidemic or addiction in general. This crisis developed over two decades and it will not be solved overnight.”

The CDC’s provisional data release on drug overdose deaths is available here.