Experts call for increases in treatment and support — ‘not enough is being done’
Drug overdoses reached a new high last year in the U.S., according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Nearly 108,000 people died from drug overdoses in 2022, the agency said.
This was a marginal increase from 2021, when 106,669 people died of drug overdoses.
Overdoses are still the leading cause of death for adults in the country, largely driven by fentanyl, a synthetic opioid drug.
Over the past two decades, the rate of drug overdose deaths has spiked from 8.2 per 100,000 people in the year 2000 to 32.6 per 100,000 in 2022, per the CDC.
The overdose rate increased for males between 2021 and 2022, and slightly decreased for females.
Overdoses increased among adults ages 35 and older between 2021 and 2022, and they decreased among those aged 15 to 34.
They were lowest for adults 65 and older.
Overall, roughly 25% of adults aged 12 and older — over 70 million people — used illicit drugs in 2022, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
“When it comes to the intractable problem of substance abuse, one thing is evidently clear: America has an appetite for drugs, and not enough is being done about it,” Dr. David Campbell, clinical and program director of Recover Together in Bend, Oregon, who was not involved in the CDC report, told Fox News Digital.
“It should come as no surprise, then, that overdoses have emerged as one of the top 10 causes of non-genetic deaths and a leading contributor to the first drop in life expectancy in the United States in over two decades.”
Although the record-high rates signify an ongoing problem, some industry experts are pointing out that the rate of increase has slowed considerably.
“Despite the grim statistics released today by the CDC, overdose fatalities rose at a slower rate in 2022 compared to a year earlier,” said Philip Rutherford, strategy lead for substance use at the National Council for Mental Wellbeing, in a statement provided to Fox News Digital.
Rutherford was also not involved in the CDC’s report.
What needs to change?
To help reverse the high rate of overdoses, Rutherford stressed the need for addiction treatment and recovery support.
“It will require increasing the size of the behavioral health workforce, augmenting the number of peer support specialists and implementing a variety of strategies to provide care in all settings,” he said.
Rutherford also called for increasing support for underserved populations and eliminating “deserts of care.”
“We strongly urge pharmacies to increase the supply of suboxone,” he said.
“That simple step will sharply increase equitable access to treatment and recovery supports and help communities provide people with the opioid use disorder medication they need to survive.”
Dr. Lawrence Weinstein, chief medical officer of American Addiction Centers in Tampa Bay, Florida, also emphasized the need for education around the dangers of hidden substances, such as fentanyl.
“Fentanyl, along with fentanyl analogs and other adulterants, can be mixed with other substances without the user’s knowledge, putting them at much greater risk of overdose,” he told Fox News Digital.
“Being aware of that risk can encourage those with substance-use disorder to be more mindful and cautious.”
Weinstein noted that “harm-reduction strategies” — like the availability of naloxone (Narcan) and needle-exchange programs — can help, but he also called for more widespread substance-use disorder treatments.
“Fentanyl can be mixed with other substances without the user’s knowledge, putting them at much greater risk of overdose.”
“Evidence-based treatment can reduce substance use disorder, health harms and overdose deaths, and the longevity and quality of treatment directly relates to lower mortality rates,” he said.
“We should also prioritize medication-assisted treatment to help individuals achieve and maintain sobriety.”
A lack of mental health resources could also contribute to the problem, Weinstein said.
“Our country must find ways to make community mental health resources more readily available through walk-in clinics and telehealth, and to expand the number of providers, especially in areas most impacted by the overdose epidemic,” he told Fox News Digital.
“Not only is substance-use disorder itself often driven by underlying mental health issues, but the impact of substance-use disorder and overdoses on families and communities is creating a secondary mental health crisis that must be addressed before it turns deadly.”
In the event of an overdose, Weinstein said it’s essential to call 911 first, administer naloxone if available, administer rescue breaths if needed — and stay until help arrives.
“These simple steps could save a life,” he said.