New Orleans Coroner, Dr. Dwight McKenna, says opioid related drug overdose deaths are on
the rise. In fact, deaths in the United States exploded to an estimated high of 69,031 in 2020
and 49,860 in 2021 according to a new report from the CDC. Most deaths, Dr. McKenna says
involve synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl.
More than $10 billion has been pledged by President Joe Biden to expand access to prevention,
treatment and recovery services. This is critical as people who are getting treatment for opioid
use disorder have a high risk for relapse, and that means a high risk for opioid overdose.
Now, researchers are studying a possible bridge to successful recovery: A vaccine that could
blunt the drugs’ ability to hurt people. The first such vaccines are now entering clinical trials,
raising hopes of adding another toot to the anti-addiction armamentarium. But even if the
vaccines prove safe and effective, their success could generate some new problems to solve.
An advantage of vaccines is that their effects can last for several months, says trial investigators
from Columbia University Irving Medical Center. Dropout rates for existing medical therapies for
opioid use disorder are as high as 50% at 6 months, and a vaccine cold protect people from
overdose and give them time to re-enter treatment.
The number of people who died from overdoses is climbing and McKenna says its a grim
milestone in our ongoing opioid crisis. Most deaths involve some form of fentanyl, the ultra
powerful synthetic opioid that is mixed in street drugs of all varieties and often, but not always,
ingested unknowingly by drug users.