Overdose Deaths Dropped in U.S. in 2023 for First Time in Five Years

Overdose deaths in the United States declined slightly last year, the first decrease in five years, according to preliminary federal data released Wednesday.

The rare good news in the decades-old addiction crisis was attributable mostly to a drop in deaths from synthetic opioids, chiefly fentanyl, said researchers at the National Center for Health Statistics, who compiled the numbers.

But the full portrait of the death toll from street drugs remains grim. Even as opioid deaths fell, deaths from stimulants such as cocaine and methamphetamine rose. And some states, including Oregon and Washington, continued to experience sharp rises in overall overdose fatalities.

Drug overdoses overall in 2023 were estimated at 107,543, down from 111,029 in 2022, a 3 percent drop. Opioid deaths fell 3.7 percent while deaths from cocaine rose 5 percent and deaths from meth rose 2 percent.

The report from the health statistics agency, an arm of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, did not offer reasons for the drop. But naloxone, a drug that reverses opioid overdoses, has become more widely available: In 2023, 22 million doses of Narcan, the best-known brand, were distributed in the United States and Canada. Test strips for users to detect the presence of fentanyl in a drug became more popular, and many communities and clinics offered programs that hand out sterile syringes.

Dr. Bruce Hurley, president of the American Society of Addiction Medicine, a professional organization of more than 7,500 treatment providers, said that the group appreciated what he called “the leveling of the overdose curve.”

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