Opioid overdose has become the fifth most probable reason for preventable death, according to a new report.
A discarded syringe is seen under a bridge on Lester Avenue in Johnson City, New York [File: Andrew Kelly/Reuters]
In the United States, the probability of dying from opioids has for the first time surpassed the likelihood of being killed in a car crash, according to a new report by the National Safety Council.
Published on Monday and based on National Center for Health Statistics’ 2017 data, the report found that opioids overdose was the fifth most probable cause of preventable death, with a one-in-96 odds. The odds of dying in a vehicular crash were one-in-103.
More probable causes than opioids overdoses were heart disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory disease and suicide.
Opioids contributed to the overwhelming majority – 69 percent – of fatal drug overdoses in 2016, totalling 37,814 deaths, according to the NSC.
These opioids include the use of illegal narcotics, such as heroin, and prescription pain killers, such as oxycodone and hydrocodone.
“The nation’s opioid crisis is fueling the Council’s grim probabilities, and that crisis is worsening with an influx of illicit fentanyl,” the council said in a statement on Monday, referring to a synthetic opioid often used to treat severe pain.
Just a day before the report was released, one person died and at least 12 people were hospitalised in northern California in what police described as a “mass overdose” stemming from fentanyl use.
In 2017, overdose deaths soared, surpassing 70,000, according to the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) National Center for Health Statistics.
And between 2013 and 2017, fatal drug overdose rates grew in 35 of the 50 US states as well as the District of Columbia. In many of those states, synthetic opioids were behind a growing number of deaths, per CDC statistics.
In December, a separate report concluded that fentanyl had become more common than heroin in drug overdose deaths in the country.
Bipartisan legislation, criticism
US President Donald Trump signed an opioid law in late October. The bipartisan law expanded medical treatment for opioid users and made it more difficult to mail illicit drugs.
“Together we are going to end the scourge of drug addiction in America,” Trump said during an event at the time.
“We are going to end it or we are going to at least make an extremely big dent in this terrible, terrible problem.”
The legislation expands access to substance abuse treatment in Medicaid, the government health insurance programme for the poor and disabled.
It also cracks down on mailed shipments of illicit drugs such as fentanyl, and provides a host of new federal grants to address the crisis.
In October 2017, Trump declared opioid addiction a 90-day emergency, a limited declaration that critics said fell short of implementing the measures needed to combat the crisis.
Critics also point to Trump’s previous attempts to slash hundreds of billions of dollars from Medicaid, which provides treatment to around one-third of people seeking help with substance abuse.
In July 2018, Senator Elizabeth Warren, a vocal opponent of Trump, accused the Trump administration of undermining programmes that are pivotal to tackle the opioid crisis.
In a nine-page letter to the president, Warren said his administration “failed to take the actions needed to meaningfully address this crisis … (and has) continued to substitute empty words and broken promises for real action and bold ideas”.