September 24, 2020

KL2 Alumnus Dr. Hawre Jalal Analyzes the Rise and Fall of Overdose Deaths in the U.S.

A University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health study published September 15 in the journal Addiction analyzed the minor decrease in drug overdose deaths in 2018 and how some have misinterpreted this dip in deaths as being a result of U.S. efforts to reduce the overdose epidemic.

The lead author of this study, Hawre Jalal, MD, PhD, is an alumnus (2019) of the Institute for Clinical Research Education’s Clinical and Translational Science Scholars Program (KL2) and an assistant professor of health policy and management. Dr. Jalal found that the decline in overdose deaths in 2018 appears to be a return to the historic exponential curve.

Pitt Public Health researchers released a study in 2018, published in Science, that showed overdose deaths formed an exponential curve since 1979, with the number of deaths doubling every 10.7 years. In 2018, the death rate declined by 4.1%, which was the first drop in overdose deaths since 1990.

In the recent "short report," Dr. Jalal and Donald Burke, MD, Distinguished University Professor of Health Science and Policy in the Department of Epidemiology, compared drug overdose data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) with U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) information on the types of drugs sent to state crime labs. They identified that the prevalence of carfentanil, a powerful opioid with no known medical use, began to increase in 2016 and 2017 with a sharp decline in 2018. In 2017, China added carfentanil to its list of controlled substances, and the supply of this drug in the U.S. abruptly dwindled, coinciding with 2018’s drop in overdose deaths.

"When policymakers believe a problem is solved, history has shown that funding is reprioritized to other efforts," said Dr. Burke. "The drug overdose epidemic is not solved. It continues to track along an ever-rising curve, with deaths doubling nearly every decade. We must address the root causes of this epidemic."

From: https://www.upmc.com/media/news/091620-jalal-burke-carfentanil

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