Fatal overdoses may be declining in the U.S.

The number of drug overdose deaths in the U.S. appears to have dropped from 2017 to 2018, according to the latest CDC estimates, although counts have not been finalized.

From 2017 to 2018, the number of estimated drug overdose deaths in the U.S. fell by 5.1%, from 72,224 to 68,557, according to the CDC.

The agency's National Center for Health Statistics released the provisional counts of overdose deaths on July 17. While a decline in fatal overdoses would be the first in decades, 2018 estimates may change as provisional counts become finalized. In 2017, for example, the final number of drug overdose deaths in the U.S. was 70,237, which was fewer than the CDC had predicted.

The states with the largest percent decreases in predicted drug overdose deaths from 2017 to 2018 were Alaska (−26.1%), South Dakota (−25.0%), Ohio (−22.4%), Pennsylvania and Iowa (both −19.6%), and Maine (−17.8%). Those with the largest percent increases were Delaware (16.7%), Missouri (16.3%), Vermont (11.6%), South Carolina (9.3%), Arizona (8.0%), and New Jersey (7.9%).

In a statement, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said the data show that efforts to curb opioid use disorder are working. The number of patients receiving medications to treat addiction has increased along with the distribution of overdose-reversing drugs (e.g., naloxone), and opioid prescriptions have decreased, he said.

Although the predicted downward trend in overdose deaths is encouraging, it does not signify victory against the opioid epidemic, Mr. Azar noted. “This crisis developed over two decades and it will not be solved overnight,” he said, adding that trends in cocaine and methamphetamine overdoses are also concerning.