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Drug overdose deaths involving synthetic opioid painkillers increased by more than 1,000% over the past six years, according to the findings of a new federal study.
The latest issue of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report highlights how fatal overdoses involving illicitly manufactured fentanyl, and other synthetic versions of the addictive opioid pain killers, have skyrocketed in recent years, as communities nationwide continue to deal with the opioid epidemic.
The CDC used data from the National Vital Statistics System to evaluate drug overdose deaths nationwide. According to the findings, from 2013 to 2019, overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids, other than methadone, increased by 1,040%.
In 2013, opioid overdoses accounted for 3,100 deaths. By 2019, opioid overdoses surpassed 36,000 deaths. In 2018, the CDC warned all opioids accounted for nearly 70% of all drug overdoses in the country.
The data indicates the largest increase in opioid overdose deaths was seen in western states, which experienced a 68% increase in synthetic opioid overdose deaths during that time period. This is a change from several years ago, when synthetic fentanyl was the cause of more than 90% of overdoses in Ohio and other areas in the Northeast.
Synthetic opioids, largely consisting of illicitly manufactured fentanyl, have driven the recent increase in fatal deaths. Fentanyl is a strong narcotic painkiller roughly 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine. A CDC report from 2018 warned fentanyl was the most dangerous drug in the United States, largely owing to its role in overdose deaths, and issued a health safety alert regarding the drug.
The CDC report also indicates overdose deaths involving psychostimulants also increased by 317%. Psychostimulants include drugs like methamphetamines, which have a high risk for abuse. In 2013, there were 3,600 overdose deaths involving psychostimulants. By 2019, there were more than 16,000 deaths.
Researchers warned drug overdoses have increased dramatically over the last ten years with fatal drug overdoses doubling from 2007 to 2017.
From 2018 to 2019, the largest increase for overdose deaths involving psychostimulants was seen in the Northwest. That area of the country had a 44% increase in overdoses involving drugs like meth.
Researchers warn that intervention and prevention efforts are needing to help with drug abuse and overdose.
Overall, nearly 71,000 drug overdose deaths occurred in 2019, a 4% increase from 2018. In a matter of five years drug overdoses rose from roughly 50,000 to now more than 71,000 deaths. Even non-fatal drug overdoses among teens are on the rise and experts warn the isolation and increased depression experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic may only worsen drug overdose problems.
“Evidence-based prevention and response strategies, including substance use disorder treatment and overdose prevention and response efforts focused on polysubstance use, must be adapted to address the changing drug overdose epidemic,” wrote study authors.