New government data suggests that drug overdose deaths have reached an all-time high in the United States, as the opioid abuse epidemic continues to worsen.
Since 2000, the rate of drug overdose deaths has increased 137 percent, with overdoses involving prescription narcotic painkillers, such as Vicodin and OxyContin, increasing to record levels, federal researchers warn.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released the new data in the Dec. 18 issue of The Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
The U.S. epidemic of drug overdose deaths seems to only be worsening, CDC officials said. There were nearly 50,000 drug overdose deaths in 2014, more than 1.5 times greater than the number of people killed in car crashes and 6.5 percent more than 2013.
Drug overdose deaths from opioid painkillers increased by 14 percent from 2013 to 2014. Researchers said overdoses involving methadone stayed the same. A report released by the CDC in 2012, revealed methadone accounted for one-third of all deaths caused by opioid painkillers.
Overdoses involving natural and semisynthetic opioids, including morphine oxycodone and hydrocodone, increased by 9 percent from 2013 to 2014; whereas overdose deaths involving heroin increased by 26 percent. Overdose deaths involving synthetic narcotic painkillers other than methadone, including fentanyl, increased by 80 percent.
Researchers said the increases in overdoses by synthetic opioids was in line with the findings of law enforcement, which revealed increased availability of illicitly manufactured fentanyl. Drug enforcement agents issued an alert in March, calling fentanyl a “threat to health and public safety.”
Overall, in 2014, more than 60 percent of overdose drug deaths involved some type of narcotic painkiller.
“These findings indicate that the opioid overdose epidemic is worsening,” CDC officials wrote in the report.
Another report issued by the CDC in October found doctor’s prescribing habits of narcotic painkillers contributes to the the overdose epidemic of opioid drugs. A person’s risk of overdose was directly associated with having multiple doctors prescribe narcotic painkillers.
The report revealed the drug overdose increase has equally affected males and females; but mostly affects people between the ages of 25 to 44 and older than 55, predominantly non-Hispanic whites and non-Hispanic blacks in the Northeastern, Midwestern and Southern regions of the U.S.
The five states with highest rates of drug overdose deaths, include, West Virginia, New Mexico, New Hampshire, Kentucky, and Ohio.
States with significant increases in the rate of drug overdose deaths, include, Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia.