Drug Overdose Deaths Drop for First Time in Nearly Two Decades

A needle used for shooting heroin and other opioids lies in the street in the Kensington section of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Charles Mostoller/Reuters)

Deaths from drug overdoses dipped in 2018 for the first time in nearly two decades as the nation continues to battle the opioid crisis.

The number of drug overdoses deaths dropped 4.1 percent from 70,237 in 2017 to 67,367 in 2018, according to data released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The drop in drug deaths boosted life expectancy. In 2018, life expectancy was 78.7 years, a o.1 percent increase from the 2017 level of 78.6 years. The increase is still lower than in 2014, when life expectancy peaked at 78.9 years.

However, although deaths were down nationally, some states suffered more overdose fatalities in 2018 than during the previous year, namely California, Delaware, Missouri, New Jersey, and South Carolina.

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The CDC’s report gives President Trump’s reelection campaign a boost during an election year. The White House declared the opioid epidemic a public-health crisis in 2017, and the administration has focused on stiffening penalties for drug dealers as well taking steps to prevent people from getting addicted in the first place and increasing federal funding to help addicts get a second chance. The president said he wants to see solutions to the “general drug crisis” as well as the problems caused specifically by opioids.

Deaths from opioids increased about 8 percent from 1999 to 2013, and then spiked 70 percent from 2013 to 2017 as the crisis spun out of control. Close to 400,000 Americans are estimated to have died between 1999 and 2017 as a result of the opioid crisis. Almost every state along with thousands of local governments and other entities have sued the pharmaceutical industry over the opioid crisis.

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