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Drug overdose deaths fell slightly in 2023 but remain high: Shots

Counterfeit oxycodone pills containing fentanyl are flooding U.S. streets, but other illicit drugs, including methamphetamine and cocaine, are killing more and more people.

U.S. Attorney’s Office for Utah/AP

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U.S. Attorney’s Office for Utah/AP

Counterfeit oxycodone pills containing fentanyl are flooding U.S. streets, but other illicit drugs, including methamphetamine and cocaine, are killing more and more people.

U.S. Attorney’s Office for Utah/AP

Preliminary data released Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveals that fatal drug overdoses in the United States decreased by about 3% in 2023.

This is a significant reversal from previous years, when street fentanyl and other toxic synthetic drugs, including methamphetamines, sparked an unprecedented surge in drug deaths.

But the death toll from the overdose crisis in 2023 remained extremely high, with 107,543 deaths.

This compares to 111,029 overdose deaths in 2022. Drug deaths in 2023 remained higher than the 106,699 deaths recorded by the CDC in 2021.

Before the explosion in fentanyl and methamphetamine use, the United States experienced far fewer overdose deaths — about 53,356 deaths, for example, in 2015.

Synthetic pills continue to flood the United States

In a statement released last week as part of the 2024 U.S. National Drug Threat Assessment, Drug Enforcement Administration Chief Anne Milgram said the overdose crisis remains perilous.

“The shift from plant-based drugs, such as heroin and cocaine, to chemical-based synthetic drugs, such as fentanyl and methamphetamine, has resulted in the most dangerous and deadly drug crisis facing the United States has ever faced,” Milgram said.

A separate report published Monday in the International Journal of Drug Policy found that fentanyl – often in the form of counterfeit prescription painkillers – continues to flood American communities.

In 2023 alone, law enforcement seized more than 115 million fake pills.

“The availability of illicit fentanyl continues to skyrocket in the United States, and the influx of pills containing fentanyl is particularly alarming,” said Joseph Palamar, associate professor in the department of population health at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine. , who was the lead author of the study.

U.S. officials and drug policy experts say fentanyl is manufactured and marketed largely by Mexican drug cartels that use chemicals supplied by Chinese drug gangs.

Opioid-related deaths decline, but meth and cocaine kill more

The latest CDC data for 2023 shows that while fentanyl and other opioids remain the deadliest threat, other illicit drugs are becoming more dangerous.

The total number of fentanyl-related deaths actually decreased slightly in 2023, from 76,226 to 74,702. At the same time, fatal overdoses from psychostimulants (including methamphetamine) and cocaine increased from 63,991 to 66,169.

Because many fatal overdoses involve multiple illicit drugs, the number of deaths attributed to specific substances is not “equal to the total number of drug overdose deaths,” according to the CDC.

This research also found uneven progress across the United States in combating fatal overdoses.

Kansas, Indiana, Maine and Nebraska saw drug deaths drop by 15% or more, the CDC reported. Other states saw increases, including Alaska, Oregon and Washington, where drug deaths increased by at least 27 percent.

Strategies to stem the overdose crisis have emerged as a hot-button political issue, hotly debated in Congress and in state capitols across the country.

Some states, including California and Oregon, have begun to abandon drug policies that aimed to shift the fight against drug addiction to a public health model and reduce the role of police.

But there is also little evidence that tougher drug laws, increased border security and increased drug seizures have had a significant impact on the supply of increasingly toxic illicit drugs. .

In its latest report, the DEA found that “no local office (in the United States) reported that fentanyl was less available or more expensive, which would indicate a decrease in supply.”

NPR’s Emma Bowman and Martin Kaste contributed reporting.

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