Amid America’s opioid crisis, deaths from stimulants are steadily rising

Headlines about America's drug crisis have long centered on opioids such as heroin and fentanyl. But a new report from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention paints a more complicated picture of the drug crisis. Overdose deaths involving cocaine and psychostimulants such as methamphetamines, MDMA, methylphenidate (commonly sold as Ritalin) and caffeine have also been steadily rising.

In 2017, there were 23,139 overdose deaths involving these drugs, making up nearly a third of the 70,237 fatal overdoses that year, according to Thursday's report.

Between 2015 and 2016, cocaine-related overdose death rates rose 52% while psychostimulant-related overdose death rates rose 33%. From 2016 to 2017, fatal overdose rates from both classes of drugs rose by about a third again. Overdose deaths from these stimulants jumped from 12,122 in 2015 to 17,258 in 2016 -- an increase of 42% in just one year.

The report evaluated drug overdose death data across age, sex and race and across all US census regions from 2003 to 2017. It also drilled down to evaluate drug use patterns in 34 states and the District of Columbia. The researchers found that the rise in death rates from the examined stimulants occurred across all demographic groups as well and in some states.

The researchers noted that rates of cocaine-related overdose fatalities remained stable from 2003 to 2006 and then steadily fell by about 11% annually until 2012. They noted that the decline in cocaine-related overdose deaths mirrored a drop in supply and an increase in cost. From 2012 to 2017, cocaine-involved deaths have risen 29% annually.

Rates of psychostimulant overdose deaths were stable from 2003 to 2010. Between 2010 and 2017, researchers found that psychostimulant-related death rates increased annually by 29%.

The researchers found that opioids were also frequently involved in these fatal overdoses. In 2017, 73% of all cocaine-related overdose deaths also involved opioids. That same year, half of psychostimulant-related overdose fatalities also involved opioid use.

To better understand what role synthetic opioids such as fentanyl contributed to the use of these drugs, the researchers compared the death rates of overdoses from only stimulant use and compared it with the death rates of overdoses that involved both stimulants and opioids. Although fentanyl and other synthetic opioids like it were a significant driver of the increase in cocaine-related deaths from 2012 to 2017, opioids were not a significant factor in the of rise psychostimulant-involved deaths from 2010 to 2017.

Death rates from overdoses involving cocaine and synthetic opioids remained stable from 2003 to 2012 and then increased annually by 114% between 2012 to 2017.

However, the researchers also warned that it is still imperative to keep an eye on the mixed use of synthetic opioids and psychostimulants, as there has been an increase in overdose deaths involving both classes of drugs in recent years. Between 2015 and 2017, overdose death rates involving both classes of drugs have risen annually by 143%.

The researchers noted that preliminary data for 2018 indicates that rising overdose trends in these classes of drugs will continue.

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