Monday January 20, 2020

Fatal Drug Overdoses Decline in US; First Drop in Two Decades

The trend was driven by a steep decline in deaths linked to prescription painkillers

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FILE - A billboard advertising treatment for opioid addiction stands in Dickson, Tenn., June 7, 2017. VOA

Fatal drug overdoses in the U.S. declined by 5.1 percent in 2018, according to preliminary official data released Wednesday, the first drop in two decades. The trend was driven by a steep decline in deaths linked to prescription painkillers.

“The latest provisional data on overdose deaths show that America’s united efforts to curb opioid use disorder and addiction are working,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said, though he cautioned the epidemic would not be stopped overnight.

The total number of estimated deaths dropped to 68,557 in 2018 against 72,224 the year before, according to the figures released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But that number is still far higher than the 16,849 overdose deaths in 1999, a figure that rose every year until 2017, with a particularly sharp increase seen from 2014 to 2017.

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Laura Levine prepares to dispense drugs at Vocal NY, an organization that works with addicts, where she is the health educator and coordinator for the opioid reversal drug Narcan, in the Brooklyn borough of New York, March 15, 2019. VOA

Deaths attributed to natural and semisynthetic opioids, such as morphine, codeine, oxycodone, hydrocodone, hydromorphone and oxymorphone, which are prescribed as painkillers, saw a drop from 14,926 to 12,757, or 14.5 percent.

That was the steepest drop for any category of drug, though deaths linked to synthetic opioids excluding methadone (drugs like tramadol and fentanyl) continued to rise sharply, while cocaine deaths also increased slightly.

Overprescription

The U.S. opioid epidemic is rooted in decades of overprescription of addictive painkillers. The crisis is responsible for about 400,000 deaths involving prescription or illicit opioids, including high-profile victims such as pop icon Prince and rocker Tom Petty.

But there are some signs the tide is beginning to turn.

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Bottles of several opioid based medication at a pharmacy in Portsmouth, Ohio, June 21, 2017. VOA

In recent months, federal and state authorities have taken on drug giants in court for allegedly bribing doctors to prescribe their medicines or for deceptive marketing that downplayed the risks of addiction.

ALSO READ: Researchers: The Herb kratom to Treat Pain and Opioid Addiction Not Safe for Use

The overall opioid prescribing rate peaked in 2012 at 81 prescriptions for every 100 Americans and had dropped to 58 by 2017, according to data suggesting that health care providers have become more cautious.

But the amount of opioids prescribed per person is still around three times higher than it was in 1999, according to the CDC, which uses a unit called morphine milligram equivalents (MME) to account for differences in drug type and strength. (VOA)

Next Story

Cases Of High-Strength Painkiller Poisonings Among Children Increase

The focus has largely been on adults so a study set out to investigate the impact on children, specifically trends in admissions to PICU

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Now Researchers are calling for a strategy that combines laws to restrict access to opioids with improved mental health support for children and adolescents. Pixabay

The proportion of high-strength painkiller poisonings among children which result in emergency hospital admissions has increased, researchers have revealed.

The study involving more than 200,000 US paediatric cases of pain-relief misuse, abuse or self-harm highlights how the opioid crisis is affecting young people.

The results, published in the journal Clinical Toxicology, show that although the number of incidents reported overall has dropped since 2005, the threat to life is rising.

“This study suggests the opioid epidemic continues to have a serious impact on pediatric patients, and the healthcare resources required to care for them,” said study researcher Megan Land from Emory University in the US.

“Paediatricians caring for children with opioid ingestions must continue to strive for effective policy changes to mitigate this crisis,” Land added.

According to the researchers, the proportion of paediatric intensive care unit (PICU) admissions rose by more than a third during the study period from 5,203 (6.6 per cent), out of 80,141 reports of poisonings between 2005 and 2009, to 4,586 (9.6 per cent) out of 48,435 between 2015 to 2018.

The focus has largely been on adults so this study set out to investigate the impact on children, specifically trends in admissions to PICU.

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The proportion of high-strength painkiller poisonings among children which result in emergency hospital admissions has increased, researchers have revealed. Pixabay

The researchers consulted the National Poison Data System database for accidental or deliberate incidents of opioid exposure involving babies and children up to age 19.

They found 207,543 cases were reported to 55 US poison control centres from 2005 to 2018.

Factors analysed included opioid type, cause of drug poisoning and the rate of cases admitted to psychiatric units.

The study also calculated the proportion of patients who ended up in PICUs and the percentage of these requiring medical treatment.

The research suggests that the majority of child drug poisonings did not require an intensive care admission, and either resulted in minor effects such as drowsiness — or none at all.

But the proportion needing specialist treatment did increase over the study period.

This trend of children ending up in intensive care is being fuelled by suspected suicide cases among under-19s who have overdosed on legal or prescription opioid drugs, the study said.

Methadone, prescription pain-reliever fentanyl and heroin are most associated with the need for intensive care doctors to give medical treatment, according to the findings.

The picture was similar with psychiatric unit admissions — the percentage of these more than doubled from 2,806 (3.57 per cent), out of 80,141 between 2005 to 2009, to 3,909 (8.18 per cent) out of 48,435 between 2015 to 2018.

This was also the case for the proportion of intensive care admissions needing cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) which went from 68 (1.31 per cent) out of 5,203 to 146 (3.18 per cent) out of 4,586 over the same time period.

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A study involving more than 200,000 US paediatric cases of pain-relief misuse, abuse or self-harm highlights how the opioid crisis is affecting young people and Children. Pixabay

The researchers are calling for a strategy that combines laws to restrict access to opioids with improved mental health support for children and adolescents.

ALSO READ: An Average Indian Spends One-Third Waking Hours on Using Smartphone: Survey

Doctors who treat children and young people should continue lobbying for policy changes, they added. (IANS)