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U.S. drug overdose deaths fell last year

Note: 2018 data is provisional; Data: Centers for Disease Control; Chart: Axios Visuals

Fewer Americans died from drug overdoses last year than the year before. It's the first time that number has gone down in almost 30 years.

Yes, but: This progress is both fragile and modest. Overdose deaths fell by about 5% last year, according to provisional data from the federal government. But overdose deaths rose by roughly 316% between 1999 and 2017. There's still a long way to go, and more than 68,000 Americans still died of overdoses last year.

  • "Lives are being saved, and we're beginning to win the fight against this crisis," Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said in a statement yesterday.
  • "This crisis developed over two decades and it will not be solved overnight," Azar said.
  • Overdoses from prescription opioids are falling, but deaths from fentanyl, cocaine and meth all continued to increase last year.

Between the lines: The decline in overall mortality appears to be driven mainly by a decline in the abuse of prescription painkillers. But overdoses involving fentanyl, cocaine and meth are all continuing to increase.

  • Naloxone, the drug that reverses the immediate effects of an overdose, has also become much more widely available as the crisis has worsened, and that is all but certainly helping to save lives.
  • But it's not clear whether efforts to get people into longer-term treatment programs are making a dent yet, given the rising demand for illegal drugs.

Go deeper: How to change treatment for opioid addiction