U.S. health chief says overdose deaths beginning to level off

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By Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The number of U.S. drug overdose deaths has begun to level off after years of relentless increases driven by the opioid epidemic, Health Secretary Alex Azar said Tuesday, cautioning that it’s too soon to declare victory.

“We are so far from the end of the epidemic, but we are perhaps at the end of the beginning,” Azar said in remarks prepared for a health care event in Washington sponsored by the Milken Institute think tank.

Earlier this month, the CDC released figures that appear to show a slowdown in overdose deaths in late 2017 and the first three months of this year.Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Confronting the opioid epidemic has been the rare issue uniting Republicans and Democrats in a politically divided nation. A bill providing major funding for treatment was passed under former President Barack Obama, and two more have followed under President Donald Trump.

More than 70,000 people died of drug overdoses last year, according to preliminary numbers released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this summer— a 10 percent increase from 2016. Health and Human Services — the department Azar heads — is playing a central role in the government’s response.