Drug Overdoses up 7 Percent: Why This Is a Nationwide Issue
by Mel Pohl, MD, DFASAM According to a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report, more than 72,000 Americans died of drug overdoses in 2017, up about 7 percent from 2016. This is alarming information, as state legislatures have passed numerous laws to compel prescribers to limit numbers and dosages of opioid pain medications. So far, as these statistics show, we are not seeing the effects, which will presumably show up in the next year or two. The report estimates that prescription painkillers and other illicit drugs contributed nearly 68 percent of the total overdose deaths; that’s about 49,000 deaths. Although these numbers are high, they could be even higher. Many deaths haven’t been reported as related to an overdose due to the way data is collected. Though the number of overdoses has risen across the country, each state is affected differently. The CDC says the West Coast is not seeing the same increase in overdoses involving synthetic drugs as the rest of the nation. In states like Oregon, Nevada, and Washington, overdoses related to psychostimulants like methamphetamine are more common. Nevada’s methamphetamine death rate is the highest in the nation. In Nevada alone, there were over 700 predicted drug overdose related deaths in 2017. Since opioids are becoming harder to obtain with newly passed regulations, some individuals are seeking other intoxicating substances, which are leading to overdoses. And unfortunately, fentanyl is also being added to other substances like methamphetamine, illicit Xanax, and marijuana. In an effort to tackle Nevada’s overdoses and in response to the opioid crisis, the state has created tighter restrictions on prescriptions, is threatening lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies, and is more closely tracking opioid distribution. Also of concern are high numbers of opioid pills prescribed acute short-term painful conditions, such as sprains or bruises. Limiting the number of pills is part of the intervention program suggested by the CDC. Each of us, if and when we find ourselves as patients, can refuse to accept prescriptions from a doctor or dentist for large quantities of opioids, insisting on a few pills, which will be all that is necessary for most acute painful conditions.
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