Federal health regulators warn that the opioid fentanyl is now linked to more overdose deaths than any other drug in the U.S., accounting for nearly a third of all fatal overdoses.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s National Center for Health Statistics published a National Vital Statistics Report on December 12, indicating that fentanyl is now the most dangerous drug on the market in the United States.
The report included data from the 2011–2016 National Vital Statistics System Mortality files, indicating that fentanyl-related deaths have skyrocketed in recent years, now accounting for nearly one-third of all fatal overdoses.
The findings indicate that in 2016, 29% of fatal overdoses involved fentanyl, resulting in more than 18,000 deaths. That’s up from only four percent in 2011.
Fatal drug overdoses involving fentanyl doubled each year from 2013 through 2016. The rate of all synthetic opioid deaths skyrocketed by 113% over the same time period, indicating an ever worsening opioid abuse epidemic.
In 2011, oxycodone was the most commonly used drug in fatal overdoses; linked to 13% of deaths. That same year, 11% of overdoses involved heroin in 2011, leading to roughly 4,500 deaths. The report found that the number of heroin overdoses has tripled, increasing to nearly 16,000 deaths, and was linked to 25% of fatal drug overdoses in 2016.
From 2012 to 2015, heroin was the most frequently used drug in overdose deaths. However, that changed in 2016 as fentanyl became more widely linked to problems.
Cocaine was consistently ranked second or third as the most commonly used drug in an overdose death. Cocaine related overdoses doubled from 2014 to 2016, up from 6,000 to more than 11,000 deaths.
Total drug overdoses jumped 54% each year between 2011 and 2016 reaching nearly 64,000 drug overdose deaths in 2016 alone.
Most drug overdoses involved more than one type of drug. In 2016, two out of five cocaine related overdoses also included fentanyl. One-third of fentanyl overdoses involved heroin and 20% of meth overdose deaths involved heroin.
The 10 most frequently mentioned drugs from 2011–2016 included fentanyl, heroin, hydrocodone, methadone, morphine, oxycodone, alprazolam, diazepam, cocaine, and methamphetamine.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid painkiller that is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. It was developed primarily for patients with the most severe pain, such as cancer pain. However, in recent years synthetic fentanyl analogs have become widely popular.
Fentanyl is extremely deadly and is often used to lace many other types of drugs. Some users aren’t even aware they are using fentanyl when they are using other substances. In many areas greatly affected by fentanyl use, overdose deaths have skyrocketed as a result.
A recent CDC report indicated fentanyl and fentanyl analogs were responsible for 50% of drug overdose deaths in 2016. The CDC issued a health alert concerning the risks fentanyl posed which included updated recommendations for first responders and medical providers.