Drug overdose deaths in the United States have slowed in recent months after reaching record levels earlier this year.
New data published Wednesday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that 107,735 people died of a drug overdose in the 12-month period ending in July. That’s about 2,500 fewer deaths than the record high that was reached in March, marking a 2% drop over four months.
Despite the improvement, annual drug overdose deaths in July were still 25% higher than they were two years earlier and more than 50% higher than they were five years earlier. And the types of drugs involved in fatal overdoses has changed.
Synthetic opioids, primarily fentanyl, were involved in more than two-thirds of overdose deaths, according to the latest provisional CDC data. Psychostimulants, such as methamphetamine, were involved in nearly a third.
Five years ago, fentanyl and methamphetamine were about half as likely to be involved in a deadly overdose, CDC data suggests.
Fentanyl and methamphetamine are often found in combination with other drugs, including cocaine and heroin, according to a statement from Dr. Rahul Gupta, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.
“While we continue to see a flattening in overdose deaths, the Biden-Harris Administration remains focused on getting more people with addiction connected to the care they need, preventing fatal overdoses with naloxone, stopping illicit fentanyl from moving into communities, and going after drug traffickers’ profits through targeted sanctions,” Gupta said.
For every fatal overdose, there are many more nonfatal overdoses and last week, the Biden administration released a new dashboard to track nonfatal opioid overdoses.
Obtaining and monitoring more real-time data on opioid overdoses that do not end in death could help predict where overdose deaths are more likely to happen and where there might be an increased need for first responders as well as the life-saving medication naloxone, which temporarily reverses the effects of an opioid overdose, Gupta said last week.
According to Gupta’s statement from Wednesday, emergency medical services responded to more than 390,000 activations nationwide that involved the administration of naloxone in the 12-month period ending in July – nearly four for every fatal overdose in the same timeframe.
The statement also highlights that hundreds of thousands of pounds of illicit drugs had been seized both domestically and by US Customs and Border Protection.