Figures from a government survey released Friday show some progress in the fight against the ongoing opioid addiction crisis in the US, with fewer people in 2017 using heroin for the first time compared to the previous year.
The number of new users of heroin decreased from 170,000 in 2016 to 81,000 in 2017, a one-year drop that would need to be sustained for years to make a difference in fatal overdoses, experts said.
Fewer Americans are misusing or addicted to prescription opioid painkillers and more people are getting treatment for heroin and opioid addiction.
Meth, cocaine and marijuana use are all up, and mental health is still spiraling downward, according to the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health survey.
The number of new heroin users was down in 2017 for the first time in many years. Politicians are applauding the government’s efforts, but experts are wary as other drug use is still high
The Trump administration said the positive trends show government efforts are working.
Messages are reaching people about the dangers of heroin and the deadly contaminants it often contains on the street, Elinore McCance-Katz, an administration health official, said in a video presentation released with the figures.
‘The “Opioid Crisis” has been in the news for several years now. Combined with significant public health efforts aimed at educating people about the dangers of heroin, particularly fentanyl-contaminated heroin, perhaps people are finally understanding how horribly dangerous this drug can be,’ Dr Timothy Brennan an addiction specialist at Mt Sinai Hospital in New York told Daily Mail Online.
McCance-Katz announcement comes despite continued complaints from experts that the only specific efforts the Trump administration has funded are ‘awareness’ campaigns.
The Senate has prepared a bill full of plans meant to address the US’s opioid epidemic, but some worry it falls short of providing a crucial component: money.
It focuses in large part on the expansion of efforts to block importation of heroin and, especially, fentanyl, as well as adjustments to the statute to make addiction treatment more accessible to more people.
Helpful though these efforts may be, the budget for them is predicted to be around $8 billion – far fall short of the amount most experts have suggeted is needed.
The bill is expected to pass the Senate handily, but even with the new survey’s encouraging results and the promise of legislative action, experts say we’re not out of the woods yet.
‘I’m sure plenty of politicians will trip over themselves trying to claim credit for these public health successes, but the truth is there will be another “crisis” of addiction in America,’ Dr Brennan said.
Marijuana use climbed in all age groups except young teenagers, with 2.5 percent of those 26 and older, or 5.3 million adults, reporting they use marijuana daily or almost daily last year.
Methamphetamine and cocaine use climbed in young adults, ages 18 to 25. The uptick may indicate that users are shifting from opioids to other drugs, said Leo Beletsky, a public health policy expert at Northeastern University in Boston.
And young adults have increasing rates of serious mental illness, major depression and suicidal thoughts.
The number of new heroin users in 2017 – 81,000 – was lower than the numbers in most years from 2009 to 2016. But it was similar to the numbers of new heroin users in 2002 through 2008.
Experts said there’s still work to be done before success can be declared.
‘While this decrease in heroin use is extremely welcome news, legislators and policy makers must remain committed to addiction prevention, education for physicians, and treatment programming,’ said Dr Brennan.
‘Taken together, this does not look like the portrait of a nation with improving mental health and addiction issues,’ said Brendan Saloner, an addiction researcher at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
‘It’s hard to look at this and not think we need to be doing a better job than we’re doing now.’