The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday provided provisional statistics suggesting that overdose fatalities likely decreased for the first time in three decades in 2018. While that's good news, the response by most experts is temperate for several reasons.
For starters, nearly 68,000 people died from overdoses, which is lower than 2017's total which topped 70,000, but still a high number. And 2018's numbers are still expected to increase once the complete data set comes in.
Further, overdoses caused by heroin and prescription painkillers decreased, possibly resulting from fewer opioid prescriptions from doctors, but deaths related to fentanyl, cocaine, and methamphetamines all continued to rise.
Finally, there's an important distinction distinction to be made. The data represents a decline in overdose deaths, but not necessarily overdoses, in general. Along those lines, Valerie Hardcastle, a Northern Kentucky University public health expert, told The Associated Press that the increased availablity of Narcan might be a major factor in the decline. Narcan is a nasal spray version of naloxone, a medication used to block the effects of opioids in an emergency situation.
"It's fantastic that we have fewer deaths, don't get me wrong," she said. "But I'm not sure it's an indication that the opioid problem per se is diminishing. It's just that we have greater availability of the drugs that will keep us alive."
Still, Stanford University professor Keith Humphreys called the preliminary data "the first real sign of hope we've had." Tim O'Donnell
Yesterday, President Obama made headlines announcing new rules to limit the federal government's sale of military equipment to local police departments. As The Week's Peter Weber reported, the ban prohibited the Pentagon selling "tracked armored vehicles, weapons or ammunition of .50 caliber or higher, camouflage uniforms, grenade launchers, or bayonets" to police.
Unfortunately, an investigation by The Washington Examiner found that only one of the items on Obama's ban list (the bayonet) is actually affected by the rule change — the rest were already banned, some for more than two decades.
Meanwhile, Obama's rules do not ban the sale of other military equipment, notably mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles — the armored vehicles that became a defining image of police militarization in Ferguson, Missouri — to local police. And though the Obama Administration says it will consider having police departments return some of the equipment they've already received, it's worth noting that some departments have already tried to do this, only to have their returns refused by the Pentagon.
Finally, it is potentially significant that Obama's prohibition targeted the "sale" of military equipment to local police, but past equipment transfers have typically been loans or gifts provided free of charge without a sales transaction. Bonnie Kristian