“Using illicit drugs has always been a game
of roulette. There’s just more bullets in the chamber now.”

That’s how one public health director described the virtual whack-a-mole reality of the worst drug death epidemic in U.S. history.

Previously, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) only made death data available once each year which resulted in it being dated.

In August, the CDC began releasing a compilation of death certificate data monthly during a rolling 12-month period, ending seven months prior to each report’s release.

However, this welcome improvement has done little to encourage optimism about this deadly scourge, until now.

No, the death toll is still rising but at a lower rate than in recent years. According to the CDC’s latest report, the number of overdose deaths nationwide climbed 14 percent in the one-year period ending July 2017, compared to 21 percent in the 12-month period that ended in January 2017.

There was also a break in the trend of rising drug deaths in 14 states; only four saw a decline in the last 12-month period.

Some of that has to be attributed to prescription opioids no longer driving this epidemic. But far more significant for these tapering overdose deaths is the widespread use of naloxone

Still, aside from such doses of lukewarm good news there are few signs of relief on the horizon. West Virginia still leads the nation with the highest overdose death rate in the nation. The most recent data indicates the overdose death rate from 2016 to 2017 is up 22.1 percent in our state.

Four states, including Pennsylvania and Ohio — 43.4 and 39 percent, respectively — saw spikes in their rates of overdose deaths. That’s suspected to be a result of the increasing presence of fentanyl in illegal drug supplies.

As twisted as it sounds some also pointed out another trend that holds out hope for the future.

Previously, following the decline in the availability of prescriptions painkillers overdose deaths soared as addicts turned to illicit drugs.

However, since fewer drug users now become addicts as a result of misuing prescription opioids that might translate into fewer ever using heroin.

Hope is not a strategy, especially when facing a deadly epidemic. However, there are hopeful signs policies aimed at curbing overdose deaths are working. It’s too little and too soon to tell, but any break in this scourge is cause for relief.

Lets just hope the next round in this chamber of horrors is an improvement, too.