The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the United States’ leading public health institute, recently issued a report that shows a startling increase in the number of deaths related to opioids overdose across the country. In terms of percentage, a 16% increase was reported i.e. from 57% in 2010 to 73% in 2015.
Heroin and other like products, such as fentanyl and oxycodone comes under the category of opioids. Out of all the opioids, heroin was reportedly the most misused drug as 1 out of 4 cases of overdoses were related to heroin consumption, which, when compared to 1999 figures, was much higher now. Heroin overdose made up 6% of all drug overdose cases during the last year of the 90s.
In addition to heroine, an increase in the usage of synthetic drugs was noticed in the study i.e. they caused 18% of total deaths associated with drugs misuse in 2015 as opposed to 8% in 2010; a total of 10% increase within a period of 5 years.
The report is the result of a study jointly conducted by CDC and the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS).
According to Dr. Holly Hedegaard, who took part in the research from NCHS, the study showed that 2015 marked the first instance in the US history when the deaths from drugs overdose crossed 50,000.
Another astonishing fact is that there were more deaths from drugs misuse in 2015 than there were from firearms related incidents.
The study also reported a decrease in the deaths related to semi-synthetic and natural opioid palliatives, including some prescription drugs. Their rate was decreased from 29% in 2010 to 24% in 2015. This change in figures is likely to be associated with the changes in users’ habits due to various factors, such as high costs of prescription drugs and strengthening of policies against their illegal usage.
Governmental Efforts to Curb Drug Misuse
The shocking figures of opioid related deaths lead the federal and state governments to strengthen the existing laws and also to formulate new ones to overcome the epidemic of drug misuse.
A new law has recently been passed in Arizona according to which opioids medicines cannot be prescribed for more than 7 days, at a time. A similar law has been passed in New Jersey as well, which limits the doctors to not prescribe these medicines for more than 5 days.
Also, a list has been issued by the Drug Enforcement Administration that contains the names of various types and forms of fentanyl that do not have any acceptable use in medical science. Due to this and their potential for abuse, they have been labeled as Schedule I drugs.
With the 21st Century Cures Act passed in 2016, Congress also committed to spend $1 billion upon measures to counter the increasing drugs misuse. This included the expansion of the method of treating opioid dependency through medicine i.e. Buprenorphine.
In order to identify ways to continue the buprenorphine treatment and improve its quality, Dr. Caleb Alexander of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, conducted a study whose results were recently published in a journal named Addiction.
The study found out that buprenorphine treatment is most successful when continued for long term i.e. at least a year.
Various measures for increasing the awareness regarding opioids misuse have also been undertaken lately. It is observed that general awareness regarding the issue has considerably increased since 2012. The guidelines issued by the CDC to doctors, in 2016, regarding opioids prescriptions are also expected to yield results soon. Doctors are also advised to not use narcotics during the first stage of pain relief treatment.