President Donald Trump is overstating progress against the opioid epidemic, claiming “the numbers are way down” despite an increase of opioid-related deaths and overdoses in his first year in office.
A look at his comments during a political rally in Nashville on Tuesday night:
TRUMP: “We got $6 billion for opioid and getting rid of that scourge that’s taking over our country. And the numbers are way down. We’re getting the word out — bad. Bad stuff. You go to the hospital, you have a broken arm, you come out, you’re a drug addict with this crap. It’s way down. We’re doing a good job with it. But we got $6 billion to help us with opioid.”
THE FACTS: Opioid prescriptions are down; deaths and other indicators of the epidemic are up, according to the latest statistics, from 2017. And those developments have nothing to do with the $6 billion approved by Congress because that money is for this year and next.
Trump didn’t specify what numbers he was talking about. But according to data released in April, prescriptions for opioid painkillers filled in the U.S. fell almost 9 percent last year, the largest drop in 25 years. The total dosage of opioid prescriptions filled in 2017 declined by 12 percent because more prescriptions were for a shorter duration, fewer new patients started on them and high-dose prescriptions dropped. The numbers are from health data firm IQVIA’s Institute for Human Data Science.
But legal prescriptions are only one front of the epidemic.
Drug overdose deaths involving opioids rose to about 46,000 for the 12-month period ended October 2017, up about 15 percent from October 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The numbers are preliminary because of continuing cause-of-death investigations later in the reporting period. They could go higher.
Other measures from the CDC also point to increasing severity of the problem last year.
For example, emergency department visits for overdoses of opioids — prescription pain medications, heroin and illicitly manufactured fentanyl — rose 30 percent in the U.S. from July 2016 to September 2017. Overdoses shot up 70 percent in the Midwest in that time while increasing by 54 percent in large cities in 16 states.
“Getting rid of that scourge” is the intent, but the numbers don’t show it fading.