Overdose deaths surged since 2010, despite prescription opioid decline: 3 findings

While the U.S.'s prescription opioid supply has declined since 2010, rates of fatal opioid overdoses have soared, suggesting illegal drug traffickers took advantage of the increased demand for illicit opioids amid declining access to prescription opioids, according to research conducted by the American Action Forum.

For the analysis, researchers with American Action Forum, a Washington, D.C.-based center-right public policy advocacy group, looked at data on overdose deaths and prescription rates compiled by multiple sources, including the CDC and the Society for the Study of Addiction. Researchers also examined previous studies on opioid use in America published in journals such as JAMA and The New England Journal of Medicine.

Here are three findings from the analysis.

1. The nation's supply of prescription opioids grew by 14.3 percent annually from 1999-2010. From 2010-16, the prescription opioid supply decreased by 4.3 percent each year. Rising rates of fatal overdoses related to these drugs also slowed from an annual growth rate of 13.4 percent before 2010 to an annual growth rate of 4.8 percent after.

2. Despite decreased access to prescription opioids, the death rate attributable to all opioids increased after 2010. From 1999-2010, the annual increase in overdose death linked to opioids was 9.1 percent. From 2010-16, the rate of opioid-related deaths increased by 12.3 percent each year.

3. Rising rates of deaths associated with heroin and synthetic opioids like fentanyl fueled the annual increase in deaths attributable to all opioids. Before 2010, the rate of heroin-involved overdose fatalities increased by 4.1 percent annually. Over the same time period, the rate for overdose deaths related to synthetic opioids increased by 13.7 percent each year. After 2010, annual growth rates surged to 31.2 percent for heroin deaths and 36.5 percent for synthetic opioid deaths.

"Transnational criminal organizations have been capitalizing on the nation's rising opioid dependency by producing and distributing an abundant supply of these illicit and lethal opioids," wrote the researchers. "This consequence suggests that combating opioid dependency requires a comprehensive approach: continuing to address the supply of legal prescription opioids, but also more effectively treating dependency and cutting off the supply of illicit opioids."

To read the full analysis, click here.

More articles on opioids: 
Facebook cracks down on opioid-based hashtags on Instagram: 5 things to know 
Florida AG says state will file opioid lawsuit against drug companies 
How Geisinger cut opioid prescriptions in half: 3 things to know

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