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Drug overdose deaths in the United States jumped last year by a projected 4.8%, wiping out a slight decline in 2018 and setting a new record high, according to preliminary data released Wednesday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics.
The CDC reported 70,980 projected overdose deaths in 2019, more than the previous record of 70,699 deaths set in 2017, and experts fear the numbers could be even worse next year, exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.
More than 35 states saw overdose deaths increase while 13 recorded declines. South Dakota reported the largest spike at 54%, followed by North Dakota at 31% and Alaska at 27%.
Fentanyl and other synthetic opioids are involved in more than half of all projected deaths with cocaine and methamphetamine-related deaths also on the rise.
The former president of the American Medical Association, Dr. Patrice Harris, said the numbers show why it's important to remove any obstacles to treatment for those addicted to drugs.
"Essential policy actions must be taken, including removing the need for pre-authorization for treatment of opioid use disorder, removing arbitrary barriers on medication for patients with pain, enforcing mental health and substance use disorder parity laws, and increasing access to naloxone and sterile needle and syringe services programs," Harris said in a statement to CNN.
The drug overdose epidemic is more deadly than ever, and without action to implement evidence-based solutions, it will grow even more dire," Harris predicted.
Drug overdose deaths declined by 5.1% in 2018, marking the first such drop in decades, something President Donald Trump took credit for, highlighting it as a major administration accomplishment.
Opioid prescribing has dropped since the CDC issued opioid prescribing guidelines in early 2016, which resulted both in doctors prescribing fewer opioids as well as insurers providing less coverage for opioids. Many experts have pointed to the overprescribing of painkillers as the root of the US opioid crisis, but say it then evolved into a heroin crisis and a fentanyl crisis.