Drug overdoses continue to surge in the U.S., with opioid abuse now accounting for nearly 70% of drug overdose deaths, according to a recent report.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report published December 21, drug overdose deaths from opioids increased again from 2016 to 2017, continuing the widespread epidemic in the United States.
Synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl, were primarily responsible for the increase in deaths and accounted for the majority of overdoses.
The CDC report reviewed drug overdose deaths from 2013 to 2017. Nearly 64,000 overdose deaths in the U.S. in 2016 were linked to opioids. This is a 21% increase from 2015.
Drug overdose deaths increased in all drug categories and two-thirds of the deaths involved an opioid painkiller. The largest increase among deaths involving synthetic opioids, including fentanyl.
In 2017, more than 70,000 drug overdose deaths occurred in the country and 68% involved an opioid painkiller. Of those, 60% involved synthetic opioids like fentanyl. This was a 45% increase from 2016. Researchers also noted drug overdose death rates increased in 35 of 50 states across the country and Washington D.C.
The latest CDC report compared geographic data related to overdoses for 2016-2017. West Virginia, Ohio, and New Hampshire were the states with the highest number of synthetic opioid involved overdose deaths in 2017.
In addition, 23 states and Washington D.C. had significant increases in opioid related overdose death rates. Of those states, eight were west of the Mississippi. This is relevant because in years past the majority of opioid related overdoses have been centered on the East coast and states east of the Mississippi.
However, now eight of the states with the most significant increases in opioid related deaths were west of the Mississippi, including Arizona, California, Colorado, Minnesota, Missouri, Oregon, Texas, and Washington. Arizona had a 122% increase in opioid related deaths, North Carolina a 112% increase in deaths, and Oregon a 90% increase in opioid related deaths.
Overall, increases from synthetic opioid overdoses surged. Yet, increases from prescription opioid overdoses and heroin overdoses remained stable during that time while increases from cocaine increased 34%.
Researchers are now wary that the prescription opioid crisis, once spurred by doctor overprescribing, may have morphed into a crisis spurred by illicit synthetic opioids like fentanyl.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid painkiller 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine. It is linked to more overdose deaths than any other drug in the U.S. and accounts for one-third of all fatal overdoses, according to a recent CDC report. It is now considered the most dangerous drug in the U.S.