Cocaine, Meth Overdose Deaths On the Rise

While the opioid epidemic has captured national attention — and federal dollars — in recent years, opioids aren’t the only culprit behind the rising number of overdose deaths in America.

In fact, death by other illicit substances such as cocaine and methamphetamine are also on the rise, in some states accounting for even more fatalities than can be attributed to opioids.

That’s according to 2017 data recently released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).


While opioids such as fentanyl and heroin accounted were involved in more than 67% of overdose deaths nationwide in 2017, cocaine and methamphetamine were the next most commonly involved.

Cocaine was involved in about 20% of all 2017 drug overdoses, while psychostimulants such as methamphetamine and ecstasy were used in about 14%, according to the data.

For cocaine, that’s a 34% increase in overdose deaths, accounting for the loss of nearly 14,000 Americans. Meanwhile psychostimulant deaths jumped 37% from the year before, accounting for more than 10,000 deaths total.


Additionally, in the western half of the country, meth accounted for more overdose deaths than did opioids such as fentanyl.

Acknowledging that opioids aren’t the only problem and that substance abuse trends vary by area is key to proper treatment of patients, the CDC researchers acknowledged in their report.

Brooke Feldman, manager of the Philadelphia CleanSlate Outpatient Addiction Medicine center, echoed those sentiments earlier this month at the Payer’s Behavioral Health Management and Policy Summit in Washington, D.C.

CleanSlate Outpatient Addiction Medicine is a national outpatient addiction treatment center with dozens of locations across 11 states.

The conference was hosted by World Congress, a provider of health care conferences, and the Association for Behavioral Health and Wellness, a trade policy group representing behavioral health payers.

“We need to stop talking about opioids,” Feldman told conference attendees. “We need to stop with [only having] opioid initiatives and councils. We have never had only an opioid crisis.”

But in recent years, the vast majority of substance abuse funding has gone toward fighting opioid abuse exclusively. In fiscal years 2017 and 2018, the federal government spent almost $11 billion on opioid-related programs and projects, with funding trending upward.

In FY 2018, the government’s opioid funding contribution increased 124% to $7.4 billion, up from $3.3 billion in FY 2017.

The problem is that many federal grants and programs apply only to opioids — not other substances such as cocaine and meth.

“I worked with a community in Texas that got some of the SAMHSA state targeted response (STR) dollars that couldn’t find people who use opioids,” Feldman said. “There was a referring coach that told me she just resorted to asking people, ‘Have you ever taken a Percocet?” so she could provide services under those STR dollars.”

Feldman wants to see those funds more evenly distributed, agnostic of substance type, arguing that the opioid epidemic doesn’t exist in a vacuum.

“If we just keep talking about opioids and this innocent victim narrative, we’re not going to get anywhere,” she said. “The opioid epidemic, false narrative and all, is bringing more attention and resources that were desperately needed. If we’re strategic and intentional, we can leverage those to address all substance use disorders.”

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