[Fox News] Drug overdoses surge in some states: 5 takeaways on numbers that ‘are people’s lives,’ expert says

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Newly released figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate a staggering 107,543 drug overdose deaths in the U.S. during 2023.

While the figure is brutally high, it actually marks a 3% drop compared to a record 111,029 deaths reported in 2022. The CDC’s data, compiled by its National Center for Health Statistics, is provisional and final figures will be released next year.

The slight downward trajectory may be a welcome sign for those working with addicts and drug users, but experts say a lot more needs to be done to drastically reduce overdose deaths, which have increased more than five-fold over the last 25 years, according to CDC data.  

Here are five takeaways on the CDC’s latest numbers.

FENTANYL OVERDOSE DEATHS CLAIMING THOUSANDS OF AMERICAN LIVES; WHAT IS BEHIND THE RISE?

Synthetic opioids such as fentanyl were by far the main cause of overdose deaths in 2023 and a contributing factor in nearly 7 out of 10 deaths.

Fentanyl is 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine. First synthesized by Belgian chemist Paul Janssen as a painkiller in 1960, it proved to be a useful drug to help patients with traumatic injuries.

But it wasn’t until roughly the past decade that the drug made its way onto the black market and truly began destroying lives and communities across the U.S.  

One of the main drivers of fentanyl’s proliferation in recent years is cheaper production methods. Whereas other plant-derived drugs like heroin and cocaine need to be grown and cultivated, synthesized drugs like fentanyl are cheaper – both for producers and consumers. Fentanyl is produced primarily in Mexico using Chinese precursors and then trafficked across the southern border.

The CDC’s data show overdose deaths involving opioids actually decreased from an estimated 84,181 in 2022 to 81,083 last year. 

While overdose deaths from dangerous synthetic opioids like fentanyl decreased in 2023 compared to 2022, cocaine and psychostimulants, like methamphetamine, increased.

Psychostimulants contributed to more than 36,000 deaths while cocaine played a part in nearly 30,000 deaths, according to the CDC estimates. 

Preliminary toxicology results from the deaths of three Kansas City Chiefs fans who were found dead in the snow two days after a game day gathering showed THC, cocaine and lethal levels of fentanyl in their systems, Fox News Digital previously reported

MICHIGAN OFFICER DETAILS HARROWING MOMENT HE COLLAPSED FROM FENTANYL EXPOSURE

Alaska, Washington and Oregon stood out with notable increases of at least 27% compared to the same period in 2022.

A new study by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found suggested overdose deaths in Western states could be linked to the widespread availability of fentanyl.

Law enforcement seized more than 115 million pills containing illicit fentanyl in 2023. That number was 2,300 times greater compared to when just under 50,000 pills were confiscated in 2017.

The NIH study notes that the region now accounts for most seizures of fentanyl overall, as well as the total weight of fentanyl seized. Additionally, 77.8% of all seizures of fentanyl in the West were in pill form in 2023. 

In March, Oregon lawmakers voted to recriminalize certain drugs after a surge in overdose deaths there. Portland private security guard Michael Bock told Fox News previously that the cheap cost of fentanyl, at 25 cents a pill, has had a devastating impact on his community.

Much of the fentanyl being imported into the U.S. comes via the southern border, according to Dr. Marc Siegel, a clinical professor of medicine and practicing internist at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City. 

“The cartels are flooding us with this, that’s why over 70% of the overdose deaths are fentanyl,” Siegel tells Fox News Digital. “But the second problem is that fentanyl is also mixed with other drugs, such as methamphetamine and cocaine.”

Siegel said that fentanyl suppresses respiration and causes a person to stop breathing.

Several states across the nation saw large decreases in overdose deaths.

For instance, Nebraska, Kansas, Indiana and Maine experienced declines of 15% or more.

LIBERAL OREGON U-TURNS, PASSES BILL TO RECRIMINALIZE HARD DRUGS AS OVERDOSE DEATHS SKYROCKET

While the latest figures may mark good news in terms of the overall overdose dip last year, the trend over the last 25 years shows a definitive and frightening upward curve. In 1999 there were around 20,000 deaths, but deaths skyrocketed to over 70,500 in 2019 and peaked in 2023 with 111,029 deaths. 

Overdose deaths then hit a record 107,941 in 2022. 

Joe Schrank, the founder of Remedy Recovery, an organization that provides treatment for substance-use disorders, says that drastically reducing overdose numbers will take a new approach. 

“All the numbers that you’re seeing are people’s lives, those are individual families, those are individual people,” Schrank told Fox News Digital. 

“If we want to tackle the drug issue we would treat it as a public health issue, not as a crime and there are a lot of states that cannot get their minds around that. So, in other words, there are overdoses in France, Portugal and Switzerland, but they’re pretty rare. And the reason is because they treat drug use misuse, or however you want to characterize it, as a public health issue.”

Schrank says people treating it as a public health issue could offer safe injection sites like Vancouver in Canada and the sites can also better inform users of how to take drugs and offer ways to beat their addiction.

“They’ve had 2 million supervised injections by public health officials in Vancouver and they’ve never had an overdose death. They’ve had plenty of overdoses. So that’s one of the ways to handle this.” 

“It’s a strange thing also, because people who are alcohol users have all of those protections, they have safe consumption sites, they’re called hotel bars and lobbies. They have a safe supply chain so if you buy a bottle of distilled spirits at whatever, you know, it’s not poison. That’s not true of other drugs.”

Schrank argues that Vancouver’s approach to treatment shows that the surge in overdoses in Oregon was not directly attributable to decriminalization.

While some people knowingly consume fentanyl, the NIH says many people are unaware that the potentially lethal drugs they plan to use contain fentanyl. This is especially true of illicit counterfeit pills, which are often made to resemble prescription medications such as oxycodone or benzodiazepines but really contain fentanyl, the NIH study says.

Studies between 2010 and 2021 reported a dramatic rise in overdose deaths among teens, which remained elevated well into 2022, the NIH says. This increase in deaths has been largely attributed to the widespread availability of illicit fentanyl, the proliferation of counterfeit pills containing fentanyl and the ease of purchasing pills through social media.

Schrank says it’s time for a national dialogue on drug use and overdoses and noted that it affects many families across the U.S. He pointed out that it has even reached the White House with Hunter Biden’s crack cocaine addiction playing out in court recently. 

“Every family has a Hunter. Every family has somebody, whether it’s a drunk uncle, a nephew they’re worried about, we all have this problem, and it’s remarkable that we don’t really say much about it.”

Illicit drugs like fentanyl and cocaine are illegal, but that won’t stop people from consuming them and so the CDC has several steps for drug users to reduce the risk of overdose.

Fentanyl test strips, a rather new approach to drug overdose prevention, are recommended by the agency to take before consumption. The small strips of paper can detect the presence of fentanyl in drugs such as cocaine, methamphetamine and heroin as well as drug forms like pills, powder and injectables.

The CDC also advises users to keep naloxone on hand, a medicine that rapidly reverses an opioid overdose. The agency also recommends avoiding mixing drugs and not to use drugs alone in case emergency services need to be called or someone needs to administer naloxone. 

“The keyword here is ‘accidental’ overdose deaths,” Siegel says. “We’re not talking about people that are committing suicide. For the most part, it’s people that are accidentally overdosing trying to get a high, not knowing how powerful the substance is.

“That’s where education comes in. That’s where naloxone or narcan comes in. Again, people need to know that even one dose of Narcan may not be enough. You may need two or three, because the half-life of fentanyl is so long.”

Schrank, meanwhile, said one of the best ways to help people get off hard drugs is to offer safe sites instead of handing down prison sentences. He said users might dismiss help, but eventually might change their mind. 

“If you say that to somebody 10 times and one time they might say, ‘OK,’ whereas if you arrest them and put them through some sort of incarceration or public defense, they’re not going to do it.”

“It’s always through a human connection and through non-judgment and the truth of the matter is that people have the human right to self-determination. And so a lot of families, communities, towns in America at large cannot accept that this is how [some people] want to spend their lives.”

“But that is their choice, even when everybody else around them disagrees with their choice, they get to make that choice, and they don’t deserve to be dehumanized and marginalized by [saying], ‘Oh well just go overdose and die.’ We can do a lot better than that.”

Information with regard to treating addiction can be found by visiting findtreatment.gov or by calling National Helpline at 800-662-HELP (4357).

Fox News’ Bradford Betz contributed to this report.

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