NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - According to the CDC, there has been no growth in national rates of fatal opioid overdoses for the first time in almost three decades. However, state data does not reflect the same trend.
Health officials like Louisiana Department of Health’s medical director Joseph Kanter believe the trend may be due to a more widespread use of life-saving drugs like naloxone. The opioid epidemic has plagued the U.S. for years, but the rate of overdose deaths may finally be slowing down.
“A few weeks ago, the CDC released some preliminary data, showing that nationally, overdose deaths are plateauing, and even decreasing a little bit,” Kanter said.
According to the CDC, drug overdose deaths dropped by almost 4,000 between 2017 to 2018.
"That's really good news nationally. It's showing that hopefully we're going over the curb and hopefully reaching the other side," Kanter said.
But in Louisiana, the numbers tell a different story.
"In Louisiana, we've not seen a decrease yet. Our 2018 overdose totals are still increasing. That's a message to all of us that we have to continue to be vigilant, and continue to invest resources towards this," Kanter said.
While national opioid overdoses may have dropped, the CDC report shows the use of naloxone, a drug that reverses the effects of the overdose, has doubled from 2017 to 2018.
“Narcan, the reversal medicine, is widely available right now. It’s well covered by medicaid, so anyone who has Medicaid coverage can get it quite easily. You don’t need a prescription in Louisiana,” Kanter said.
To help fight overdose deaths, Thomas Hauth, the medical director at the Jefferson Parish Human Services Authority said they offer naloxone for free, as well as training to the community.
“It’s available to the community, and I would strongly encourage anybody who is at all affected by someone with substance use to go ahead and get that, have it in the medicine cabinet and have it just so it’s available,” Hauth said.
While medical experts said they haven't seen the overdose rates level off yet in the state, they hope more access to treatment will change that.
“The federal government did fund increased prescribing of medication-assisted treatment for opiate use disorder, so I think with more prescribers, and with the Narcan available, we will see some improvements," Hauth said. “I haven’t experienced that yet, but I’m hopeful.”
Doctors said while naloxone is widely available for immediate resuscitation, long-term treatment is required to fight opioid addiction.