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Foss: Overdose deaths drop, but concern remains

Foss: Overdose deaths drop, but concern remains

In New York, the decline has been significant
Foss: Overdose deaths drop, but concern remains
Photographer: ShutterStock

Have we finally turned the corner on drug overdose deaths? 

The raw numbers suggest that maybe we have. 

Preliminary data released late last month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that drug overdose deaths declined last year for the first time in three decades. 

In New York, the decline has been significant, falling from 2,627 deaths in 2017 to 2,360 deaths in 2018 — a 10 percent drop. 

These numbers could rise, as the CDC data for 2018 is incomplete, but still.  When was the last time we heard any good news about the nation's ongoing drug overdose epidemic? Isn't this something to celebrate? 

It's certainly tempting to think so, but I wouldn't break out the party hats just yet, and here's why: 

Drug overdoses continue to claim the lives of far too many Americans, with the CDC predicting that the death total for 2018 will exceed 68,000

Not included in this grim tally are the countless people struggling with addiction, or the lucky users who overdose and survive. 

A week ago, Schenectady got a disturbing reminder that the nation's drug crisis remains very much a crisis. 

Four people overdosed last Thursday evening, prompting the Schenectady Police Department to put out an alert on social media urging people to be cautious. 

None of the overdoses were fatal, but that doesn't make them any less concerning, or lessen the toll they take on the community. 

If nothing else, they suggest that drug overdose fatalities — the majority of which are caused by opioids — only tell part of the story, and that there's a huge need to connect people struggling with substance abuse problems with treatment programs that can help them beat and manage their addictions. 

One promising development is Schenectady Cares, a new program designed to help addicts quit. 

People with active addictions who go to the city police headquarters on Liberty Street and turn over their drugs will be directed to New Choices Recovery Center, which runs a variety of drug treatment programs. 

Preliminary data from the state Department of Health indicate that opioid fatalities in Schenectady County declined from 31 in 2017 to 22 in 2018. Outpatient emergency department visits caused by opioid overdoses also dropped, from 122 to 59. 

This data is encouraging, but it's too early to know exactly what it means — whether it signals the start of a long-term trend, or is little more than a short-term blip. 

I'm hoping that it's a longer-term trend, of course. 

But I'm also mindful of the fact that a slight drop in drug overdose deaths is hardly reason to declare victory in the fight against addiction. 

That fight remains an urgent one, as we saw last week four people overdosed in the span of hours, and there's still a lot of work to be done. 

Reach Sara Foss at [email protected]. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper's. 

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