Deadly overdoses fell in U.S. for first time in five years, new estimates show



Deaths from drug overdoses fell last year in the United States as fewer people lost their lives to fentanyl and other opioids, marking the first time the death toll had dropped in five years, according to newly released estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Federal officials said the numbers show a 3% decline in the estimated overdose fatalities between 2022 and 2023. That downturn equates to nearly 3,500 fewer deaths across the U.S. than the year before.

The new figures are tentative and could still be updated. Even a slight decline could be a balm for a country where drug overdoses have taken a devastating toll: In one survey, more than 40% of adults said they knew someone who lost their life to a drug overdose, according to a Rand study published this year.

Community groups and health officials grappling with the devastating toll of fentanyl have pushed to equip more people with naloxone, a medicine that can stop opioid overdoses and is commonly sold as a nasal spray under the brand name Narcan. Los Angeles County officials, for instance, credited an effort to hand out Narcan on the streets when they announced last week that overdose deaths had stopped surging among homeless people.

But even as U.S. deaths linked to fentanyl and other opioids dropped between 2022 and 2023, the country saw an uptick in deaths tied to stimulants such as methamphetamine and cocaine, according to the new estimates.

And not all parts of the country saw an overall drop in fatal overdoses. “In the East Coast and in the Midwest, we are seeing declines, but on the West Coast — particularly in the upper Northwest — we’re still seeing increases,” said Farida Ahmad, a health scientist at the National Center for Health Statistics.

The federal figures show that in California, the estimated number of overdose deaths continued to rise in 2023 compared with 2022, increasing by 4.1%. In Oregon and Washington, increases were significantly steeper.

Drug use can differ from region to region, shaping ensuing overdoses and deaths: Fentanyl hit the eastern U.S. before spreading west, and methamphetamine use generally has been more common on the West Coast.

The federal estimates released Wednesday do not detail how many deaths linked to methamphetamine also involved other drugs, a phenomenon that has gained growing attention as American mix drugs both knowingly and unknowingly. In L.A. County, for instance, a recent report indicated that in 2022, nearly half of overdose deaths among homeless people involved both methamphetamine and fentanyl.

As it stands, there are no medications approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat addiction to meth, although some existing medicines have shown promising results, as has offering incentives such as gift cards for people to stay off stimulants.

Americans have been eager for any signs of hope amid the overdose crisis, but experts have cautioned against declaring victory too soon in reaction to year-to-year changes in overdose deaths.

For instance, University of Pittsburgh researchers found that the last time fatal overdoses dropped nationally in 2018, the downturn coincided with stricter regulations in China on carfentanil, a highly potent synthetic opioid. The following year, deaths from drug overdoses rose again.



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