According to provisional data from the CDC, overdose deaths from opioid abuse in the U.S. likely fell in 2018, representing the first decline in roughly 30 years.
The latest data showed 68,000 drug overdose deaths in 2018, compared to more than 70,000 in 2017.
The findings, which are likely to be updated and could show a higher final rate of death, were trumpeted by federal agencies.
“The latest provisional data on overdose deaths show that America’s united efforts to curb opioid use disorder and addiction are working. Lives are being saved, and we’re beginning to win the fight against this crisis,” HHS Secretary Alex Azar said in a statement.
The human toll and the financial cost of the opioid abuse epidemic, which has grown over the last 20 years, has been significant. One recent study found the opioid epidemic has cost the federal government $26 billion in lost tax revenue over a 16-year period. Many new solutions to combat the issue have come into the spotlight, including AI-focused solutions and machine learning.
At the same time, other estimates do not predict a slowdown in opioid overdose deaths. One recent JAMA study predicted a 147% increase in deaths from opioids by 2025.
The findings also come at a time when pharmaceutical companies are coming under fire for their roles in the opioid abuse epidemic. In particular, pharma companies that produce and market opioids are facing multi-million lawsuits by individuals and states. Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, recently agreed to a $270 million settlement in one such lawsuit from Oklahoma.
The death rate is likely lower due to new interventions and stricter prescription practices.
“While the declining trend of overdose deaths is an encouraging sign, by no means have we declared victory against the epidemic or addiction in general. This crisis developed over two decades and it will not be solved overnight,” Azar said.