(WASHINGTON) – The number of US drug overdose deaths has calmed somewhat after years of unrelenting increases due to the opioid epidemic, Health Minister Alex Azar said Tuesday, warning that it was too early to announce victory
are so far from the end of the epidemic, but we may be at the end of the beginning, "said Azar in prepared remarks for a health event sponsored by the Think Tank of the Milken Institute.
Confronted with the Opioid Epidemic is the rare issue that unites Republicans and Democrats in a politically divided nation, with a bill passed under President Barack Obama providing the main funding for treatment, and two others following under President Donald Trump.
More than 70,000 people died drug overdose last year, according to preliminary figures from Centers for Disease Control and Präv ention this summer ̵
Azar said in his speech that towards the end of last year and early this year, the number of deaths "has begun to plateau." Azar did not suggest The number of deaths is declining, but they seem to be slower than before.
Earlier this month, the CDC released – also tentatively – numbers that speak for a slowdown in overdose deaths in late 2017, the first three months of this year. From December to March, these figures show that the rate of increase over the past 12 months has slowed from 10 percent to 3 percent, according to preliminary CDC figures.
Despite the slowdown, the nation is still in the midst of the deadliest overdose epidemic in its history. Opioids were involved in most deaths, killing nearly 48,000 people last year.
While the number of prescription opioids and Heroine seems to be waning, deaths from fentanyl, cocaine and methamphetamine are on the increase. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is much stronger than heroin, and it is used as an additive in street drugs.
In an interview with The Associated Press this summer, a CDC expert said the overdose death tolls seem to be changing for the better, but it's too early to draw firm conclusions.
Month-to-month data show a leveling in the number of deaths, said Bob Anderson, a senior statistician with the National Center for Health Statistics. However, these figures are considered provisional, as death investigations have not been completed in all cases.
"It seems we could have peaked at this point and we could see a decline," Anderson said. "It reminds me of what we saw with HIV in the 1990s."
Final figures for 2018 will not be available until the end of next year and things could get worse, no better.
___  Johnson reported from Seattle.