Major study: Drug overdoses over a 38-year period reveal hidden trends

It's just the current cycle that involves opiates, but methamphetamine, cocaine, and others have caused the trajectory of overdoses to head the same direction

  • It appears that overdoses are increasing exponentially, no matter the drug itself
  • If the study bears out, it means that even reducing opiates will not slow the trajectory.
  • The causes of these trends remain obscure, but near the end of the write-up about the study, a hint might be apparent

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 23: Bags of drugs are displayed on a table during a press conference held by the United States Attorney's Office at the John Joseph Moakley United States Courthouse in Boston on Aug. 23, 2018 announcing federal or state drug, guns, and counterfeiting charges against 29 individuals following separate investigations targeting allegedly major drug dealers and repeat criminal offenders. (Photo by David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Fentanyl bust

A new study has just been published in Science.Org magazine detailing the progression of addiction in the United States from 1979 to 2016.

Named "Changing dynamics of the drug overdose epidemic in the United States from 1979 through 2016," it records the deaths from 600,000 overdoses during that 38-year period.

The results are more disturbing because one fact emerges: no matter the drug of choice for those who overdosed, or even the demographic backgrounds of those who overdosed, the mortality rate has increased every year since 1979.
Even more alarming: Even if, for example, the current opioid crises begins to be dealt with, the trajectory is such that deaths from that same drug would not lessen.

Indeed, more than 70,000 died from overdoses in 2017, and nearly 70% of those are were from heroin, opioids, and fentanyl, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

BOSTON, MA - MAY 24: A pill of Buprenorphine, better known as Suboxone. The opioid is used to treat substance use disorders. Extensive research has shown opioid-addicted people who properly prescribed buprenorphine or methadone are much less likely to relapse and overdose than people who try to recovered without medication. However, it is still an opioid that creates physical dependence. (Photo by Craig F. Walker/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

From the abstract:

"Better understanding of the dynamics of the current U.S. overdose epidemic may aid in the development of more effective prevention and control strategies. We analyzed records of 599,255 deaths from 1979 through 2016 from the National Vital Statistics System in which accidental drug poisoning was identified as the main cause of death. By examining all available data on accidental poisoning deaths back to 1979 and showing that the overall 38-year curve is exponential, we provide evidence that the current wave of opioid overdose deaths (due to prescription opioids, heroin, and fentanyl) may just be the latest manifestation of a more fundamental longer-term process. The 38+ year smooth exponential curve of total U.S. annual accidental drug poisoning deaths is a composite of multiple distinctive subepidemics of different drugs (primarily prescription opioids, heroin, methadone, synthetic opioids, cocaine, and methamphetamine), each with its own specific demographic and geographic characteristics."

Despair and loss?

Near the end of the study, one of the key items that stands out is that "Sociological and psychological 'pull' forces may be operative to accelerate demand, such as despair, loss of purpose, and dissolution of communities."

In other words, the loss of good jobs with benefits, as well as neighborhoods where people felt like they lived among an actual community, are impacting overdoses and addiction.

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