Author: Justin Mckibben
America, not to mention a good chunk of the rest of the world has been experiencing a grave increase in drug related issues, including overdose deaths. In America it has been stated that prescription painkiller overdoses have become the leading cause of hospital visits, surpassing even car accidents.
Even though there are strong forces allied together that are pushing for drug policy reform, and harm reduction is expected to make major strides in 2015, some are still predicting even more overdose deaths to come in the next few years.
Straight From Farr’s Law
According to a recent study conducted by Columbia University that was published in the journal Injury Epidemiology, the drug overdose epidemic in the United States will actually peak in 2017, at about 50,000 annual deaths. The study came up with this figure by being the first to apply Farr’s Law on the rise and fall of epidemics to an outbreak that is not from the strict perspective of epidemiologists infectious in origin.
In the United States more than 40,000 people die every year by unintentional drug overdose as of now. Looking at the number over overdose deaths in 1980 that number has multiplied 10 fold! Salima Darakjy, a doctoral student at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, is an author of the study who stated,
“To some extent, drug use is a social behavior and has the potential to spread like a contagious disease among individuals in a network.”
The Columbia University study does however estimate some good news. According to their figures the drug overdose epidemic may soon be ending, despite the coming spike in fatalities. How did they come up with that if the future is looking to grim? In the mid-1800s a study on smallpox done by pioneering British epidemiologist William Farr, it was discovered that that the rate and duration of the epidemic’s rise was mirrored in its decline.
Things Get Worse Before They Get Better
Using that same formula, the researchers measured the progress of the drug overdose epidemic. Using Farr’s Law, the study found that the drug overdose epidemic should hit its peak at about 50,000 annual deaths in 2017, but then start declining to a non-epidemic state of approximately the same rate it was before the epidemic, putting the body-count at about 6,000 deaths in the year 2035.
According to the researchers at Columbia, the rate of deaths from prescription painkillers, which again are credited for 2/3 of all the overdose related deaths, has already showed signs of decreasing. With stricter regulations being implemented on painkillers to combat the ‘pill mill’ and ‘doctor shopping’ trends, many users have chosen to switch to heroin, which is cheaper and more readily available. Even with taking this substitution effect into account, the experts believe it is still unlikely to alter the course of the epidemic.
However in order for this kind of positive change to take place, public health efforts cannot take a break. Once the epidemic starts to dwindle, the country will still have to continue to take action to reverse the overdose problem.
Director of the Center for Injury Prevention at the Mailman School and professor of Epidemiology, Dr. Guohua Li stated,
“A decline in overdose deaths shouldn’t be used as justification to pull back. That would be wrong. If there is no intervention then the epidemic will last much longer.”
With National Center for Health Statistics data and continued public health resources being used to prevent overdoses, the study concluded that this revolutionary change in statistics was possible. For the year 2014 Congress has committed $20 million in spending on resources to fight the overdose epidemic plaguing the country. It is truly troubling to suspect that we may see a devastating increase in deaths sooner, but hopefully there is some light at the end of that tunnel.
The pandemic of drug overdoses in America is a harsh reality that our country has been faced with in the past few years, and some believe it might only get much worse too soon. While some believe that relief is just a few years away, it is possible for each of us to take the opportunities in front of us. If you are still alive, then you still have a chance. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135