New York Times Investigation Finds Drug Overdose Deaths Reached All-Time High in 2016

Press Release June 5, 2017
Media Contact

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<p>Tony Newman, 646-335-5384<br />
Grant Smith, 202-669-6573</p>

The New York Times published on Monday an investigative report that found that drug overdose deaths last year reached an all-time high, suggesting that the country’s long-term opioid crisis continues to worsen and that younger age groups in the U.S. are experiencing record numbers of opioid overdoses than in the past.

The Times looked at preliminary overdose data for 2016 provided by hundreds of state and local health authorities, concluding: “Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death among Americans under 50, and all evidence suggests the problem has continued to worsen in 2017.” The report estimates that more than 59,000 people died from a drug overdose in 2016 – an increase across of 19% from 2015. The report does not elaborate on which drugs are behind the estimated jump in overdose deaths last year, nor does the report indicate which age groups under 50 saw the largest increase in overdose deaths over prior years.

Advocates have criticized President Trump and his administration for failing to deliver on his promise of increased access to opioid treatment, as well as for backing health care legislation in Congress and proposing major cuts to Medicaid that cumulatively would make devastating cuts to opioid treatment and mental health services for populations hit hard by the opioid crisis.

“President Trump and his administration talk about expanding access to opioid treatment and ending the opioid crisis but are taking very aggressive steps to do just the opposite. Trump continues to push for a health care bill that threatens opioid treatment access for millions of people who otherwise can’t afford it. Trump’s first budget to Congress puts more money behind law enforcement than treatment, and actually proposes to cut treatment funding levels over what President Obama proposed in his last budget to Congress. It’s really difficult to take seriously Trump’s assurances it’s prioritizing a response to the opioid crisis with this track record,” said Grant Smith, deputy director of national affairs with the Drug Policy Alliance.

The Drug Policy Alliance recently released a plan to address increasing rates of opioid use and overdose.  The plan marks a radical departure from the punitive responses that characterize much of U.S. drug policy and instead focuses on scientifically proven harm reduction and public health interventions that can improve treatment outcomes and reduce the negative consequences of opioid misuse, such as transmission of infectious diseases and overdose.

The plan offers specific policy proposals that, if implemented, will increase access to effective treatment, expand harm reduction services, prevent further opioid misuse, reduce the role of criminalization and lessen incarceration, and decrease racial disparities.  Some of the more than twenty innovative and cutting-edge recommendations in the plan include:

“Opioid misuse and overdose are complex issues that require a multifaceted, comprehensive approach,” said Lindsay LaSalle, Senior Staff Attorney at the Drug Policy Alliance.  “In taking some or all or the steps delineated in the plan, local, state, and federal policymakers can act to ensure healthier, safer populations while avoiding failed strategies that drive people away from care and treatment, exacerbate racial disparities, and waste scare public resources.”

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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