Latest opioid numbers have to be taken in broader context

Slightly shifting national numbers and consistent local admissions in treatment facilities lead to the possibility that the opioid epidemic is leveling out, but not really shrinking.

State Department of Health data from Essex and Franklin counties showed the number of overdoses, deaths and hospitalizations either remained constant in the single digits or dropped slightly. In the state, those numbers dropped by either a thousand or several hundred.

The report mentioned that those numbers do not fully capture the impact opioids are having on the state. Some of the numbers regarding heroin overdoses or hospitalizations in both counties were “suppressed for confidentiality purposes if there are fewer than 6 discharges,” according to the report.

St. Joseph’s CEO Bob Ross said to be wary of any reports showing the number of deaths dropping, as it could simply be a symptom of the impact that drugs used to revive or save those undergoing an overdose, such as narcan, are more prevalent and effective. It does not necessarily mean the opioid epidemic is cooling.

According to a study the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published on Aug. 9, the number of naloxone prescriptions dispensed from retail pharmacies increased by 106% from 2017 to 2018. In Essex and Franklin counties, the number of naloxone uses dropped from 34 to 15 in Franklin County and from 12 to nine in Essex County, according to the state Health Department.

Provisional data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is supposed to show a drop in overdose deaths, according to Secretary Alex Azar. In a press release from the department, Azar said the number of drug overdose deaths had dropped by 5.1% in 2018.

“The latest provisional data on overdose deaths show that America’s united efforts to curb opioid use disorder and addiction are working,” Azar said. “Lives are being saved, and we’re beginning to win the fight against this crisis.”

Ross said that the data from 2018 would show that the opioid crisis is consistent with where it’s been and has actually risen. He said that, according to CDC data, there were 70,000 overdose-related deaths last year.

In St. Jospeh’s in-patient facilities, the number of patients admitted for opioid use from Aug. 20, 2017 to Aug. 20, 2018, and then from Aug. 20, 2018 to Aug. 20, 2018 increased from 251 to 255.

Essex County Coroner Frank Whitelaw said he’s seen fewer opioid-related deaths in the past year.

He attributed the decrease to two things: the increased availability of naloxone, which has saved lives, and the resurgence of other drugs such as cocaine.

Saranac Lake Police Department Chief Chuck Potthast said the opioid epidemic is still having a problem in the area. They recently had a break-in that was related to opioid use. He said it had gotten better, however, and that increased education and services are giving people with an addiction disorder a place to seek treatment.


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