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New U.S. survey shows some progress against opioid crisis

| Friday, Sept. 14, 2018, 1:21 p.m.
Figures from a 2017 survey released on Friday, Sept. 14, 2018, show fewer people used heroin for the first time compared to the previous year, and fewer Americans misusing or addicted to prescription opioid painkillers.
Mark Lennihan/AP
Figures from a 2017 survey released on Friday, Sept. 14, 2018, show fewer people used heroin for the first time compared to the previous year, and fewer Americans misusing or addicted to prescription opioid painkillers.

Figures from a U.S. government survey released Friday show some progress in the fight against the ongoing opioid addiction crisis with fewer people in 2017 using heroin for the first time compared to the previous year.

The number of new users of heroin decreased from 170,000 in 2016 to 81,000 in 2017, a one-year drop that would need to be sustained for years to make a difference in fatal overdoses, experts said.

Fewer Americans are misusing or addicted to prescription opioid painkillers. And more people are getting treatment for heroin and opioid addiction, the survey found.

The Trump administration said the positive trends show government efforts are working.

Messages are reaching people about the dangers of heroin and the deadly contaminants it often contains on the street, Elinore McCance-Katz, an administration health official, said in a video presentation released with the figures.

Among the other findings:

  • Marijuana use climbed in all age groups except young teenagers, with 2.5 percent of those 26 and older, or 5.3 million adults, reporting they use marijuana daily or almost daily last year.
  • Methamphetamine and cocaine use climbed in young adults, ages 18 to 25.
  • Young adults have increasing rates of serious mental illness, major depression and suicidal thoughts.

Experts said there’s still work to be done before success can be declared.

“Taken together, this does not look like the portrait of a nation with improving mental health and addiction issues,” said Brendan Saloner, an addiction researcher at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “It’s hard to look at this and not think we need to be doing a better job than we’re doing now.”

Chris Pastrick is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris at 724-226-4697, cpastrick@tribweb.com or via Twitter @CPastrickTrib.

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