The opioid epidemic: reducing fatalities

It’s estimated that 49,000 people in the US died in 2017 due to opioid abuse or addiction. And although there’s some evidence that the number of deaths is starting to slow down, a recent study published in JAMA has shown the areas most affected by the ongoing epidemic.

The study looks at opioid related deaths between 1999 and 2016. The researchers, who were from the Center of Population Health Sciences and Stanford University, found some alarming trends in the use of opioids and in the mortality rates.

The biggest fall in overall life expectancy was seen in the states of New Hampshire and West Virginia. Across the country, the average decrease in life expectancy, which is linked to opioid use, is around 0.36 years. However, in the worst affected areas, it’s reduced life expectancy by around a year.

The researchers found, firstly, that the mortality rates from synthetic opioids had doubled every two years in the period in 28 US states. The state with the largest increase was seen in The District of Columbia. In this region, rates of opioid mortality tripled every year between 2013 and 2016.

Synthetic opioids include drugs like fentanyl, which are man-made drugs and are more dangerous than natural opioids like morphine or codeine. Fentanyl, for example, is believed to be up to fifty times stronger than heroin.

As pointed out by one of the researchers, Matthew Kiang: “Heroin just continues to get more and more potent in the eastern United States, whereas heroin [in] the western United States has traditionally been this brown tar heroin.”

“It’s much harder to lace with fentanyl or other synthetic opioids. One thing I do want to highlight is that, despite the large differences in deaths across states, there’s no evidence to suggest that there’s differences in use.”

The research shows that, as more people turn to synthetic opioids, rather than natural or semi-natural opioids, the number of fatalities could rise if the issue isn’t addressed. In particular, experts advise that, in order to tackle the issue, testing for synthetic opioids should be rolled out across the US so that proper medical care and advice can be given.

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