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Fatal overdoses rose to record highs in 2019, reversing historical progress

“It looks like 2019 is the new high for drug overdose deaths,” said Bob Anderson, chief of death rates at the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics. “Data is still tentative at this time, but the increase in the last few months of 2019 was steep enough to make it to the top with just over 200 deaths.”

Trump campaigned to end the opioid crisis and, along with Congress, invested more than $ 21 billion in the effort over the past four years, according to figures from the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. Trump praised a 4.6 percent drop in overdose deaths in 2018 during this year’s State of the Union speech, the first drop in fatal overdoses in nearly 30 years.

“With unyielding commitment, we are curbing the opioid epidemic,” Trump said in early February.

The overdose data may still be slightly adjusted when finalized later this year. But experts say the progress made in 2018 was short-lived, as the epidemic shifts to more potent opioids and the number of deaths from other drugs is increasing.

“It was premature to announce the victory in 2018,” said Chuck Ingoglia, president and CEO of the National Council for Behavioral Health, an industry association for mental health and addiction treatment providers. “We still don’t have enough capacity to reach people who need it. Even with the new investments, we are still woefully underfunded. ”

A year after executives, in an optimistic but cautious tone, struck that the tide began to turn the deadly drug epidemic, they warned Wednesday that a tough battle was ahead.

“We understand that there is an extraordinary amount of work to be done, especially now that we are also dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic that could significantly impact our nation’s mental and psychological health and substance use risk,” said the Deputy health secretary Brett. Giroir in a statement.

White House spokesman Judd Deere said the new data is “an important reminder that the Crisis Next Door is not over yet and continues to evolve.”

Anderson, the CDC expert said last year’s increase was largely driven by synthetic opioids such as illicit fentanyl, although the deaths from methamphetamine and cocaine are increasing.

“A significant portion of these are combination drugs, in which fentanyl is mixed with meth or cocaine,” he said.

Dan Barden, vice president of clinical services at Tucson, Ariz. Based CODAC Health, Recovery and Wellness, noted a dramatic rise in illegal synthetic opioids such as fentanyl. His state saw a nearly 14 percent increase in overdose deaths in 2019, according to the CDC data.

“Part of it is homemade fentanyl,” said Barden. “We find it everywhere – squeezed into pills to look like Xanax. It is incorporated into marijuana and added to prescription opioids. ”

Addiction experts say the federal focus on opioids has been too narrow and should be broadened to include all substances, including alcohol.

“We have lobbied a lot with our Congressman to say that the word ‘opioid’ should come from a bill,” said Lenette Kosovich, the CEO of Rimrock Foundation, an addiction treatment center in Billings, Mont. “Concentrating on the word” opioid “has done us no good here in the West and Midwest.”

CDC data from 2018 and 2019 showed a significant increase in meth-related deaths, mainly in regions of the country, while opioid-related deaths were more common in the Northeast. Montana saw a 19 percent increase in drug overdose deaths last year, according to the CDC data.