July 18 (UPI) -- Drug overdose deaths in the United States fell in 2018, following decades of steady increases, according to federal data.
Between 2017 and 2018, drug overdose deaths dropped by 5.1 percent, according to data released Wednesday by the National Center for Health Statistics.
"The latest provisional data on overdose deaths show that America's united efforts to curb opioid use disorder and addiction are working. Lives are being saved, and we're beginning to win the fight against this crisis," said Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar.
Prior to the decrease, death rates from synthetic opioids increased by more than two-fold between 1999 and 2016.
Among the estimated 68,557 drug overdose deaths that occurred in 2018, about 47,590 were from opioid use, while 31,897 resulted from fentanyl, tramadol and other synthetic opioids.
"Under President Trump's leadership, and thanks to efforts on the ground by communities across America, the number of patients receiving medication-assisted treatment has risen, distribution of overdose-reversing drugs is up, and nationwide opioid prescriptions are down," Azar said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released its updated guidelines for prescribing opioids in 2016. Since then, the number of doctors prescribing and insurance companies covering the drugs began to fall.
Research has shown physicians were more likely to overprescribe opioids if they received payments from drug companies. Between 2014 and 2016, drug companies paid close to $40 million marketing to doctors in more than 2,200 U.S. counties, which may have incentivized overprescribing. Through the same period, overdose deaths went up by 18 percent for every three payments to a doctor for every 100,000 residents in each county.
"While the declining trend of overdose deaths is an encouraging sign, by no means have we declared victory against the epidemic or addiction in general. This crisis developed over two decades and it will not be solved overnight," Azar said. "We also face other emerging threats, like concerning trends in cocaine and methamphetamine overdoses."