According to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), overdose deaths have increased 137% since 2000. More than 50,000 Americans fatally overdosed in 2015. That’s up 5,000 from the previous year.
“The epidemic of deaths involving opioids continues to worsen,” said CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden said. “Prescription opioid misuse and use of heroin and illicitly manufactured Fentanyl are intertwined and deeply troubling problems.”
The number of deaths from overdose of illicit opioids is one of the most staggering statistics. Deaths involving synthetic opiates, mostly Fentanyl, rose by nearly 75% from 2014 to 2015.
Deaths attributed to heroin also went up. Up 23%. In 2007 gun homicides outnumbered heroin deaths by more than 5 to 1. No longer. In 2015, more people died from heroin than gun homicides. Also, heroin deaths have surpassed traditional opioid painkillers, like hydrocodone and oxycodone.
Prescription Painkillers Lead to Heroin
The use of prescription painkiller has exploded exponentially since the late 1990’s. After many Americans developed a dependency on painkillers, authorities tightened the restrictions on painkillers. Unfortunately, this shifted demand to heroin. This has fed the heroin boom of the last several years.
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Many opioid deaths involve a combination of drugs. This can be multiple types of opioids together, or opioids mixed with alcohol. Drug users believe combining drugs can boost the high, but there is no question they increase the risk of overdose.
Drug Overdoses: Rates Vary By State
Drugs are the leading cause of accidental death in this country. Fatal overdoses passed shooting deaths and fatal traffic accidents many years ago. In another change, 2015 marked the first decline in life expectancy since 1993. This is unique to the US, as the results are not the same in other Western nations.
The highest fatality rates tend to be concentrated in specific states. Alaska had the most fatal alcohol overdoses. West Virginia had high opioid death rates. Benzodiazepine-related deaths were also common in West Virginia. Heroin overdoses were highest in New England. Cocaine overdoses were highest in Rhode Island and New Mexico.
The steepest increase in overdose deaths has been among people aged 65-74 years old.
This may be caused by unmonitored prescription refills for chronic pain. As the body ages, it loses the ability to clear drugs from its system. A standard dose of opioids for a younger person could be fatal for an older person. From 2014 to 2015 there was a 4,150 percent increase of deaths in this group.
Fentanyl & Synthetic Opiates
Deaths from Fentanyl and other synthetic opiates are responsible for the large uptick in deaths. According to the CDC, Fentanyl causes 44 deaths every day. It is the most dangerous drug in the US.
Fentanyl is 100 times as strong as morphine. It is 30-50 times more powerful than heroin. Although Fentanyl is often given to cancer patients, most overdose deaths are from illegally manufactured Fentanyl, not the prescription medication.
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We have been talking about painkillers and heroin, but alcohol continues to be a growing problem, too. Since 1999, the number of alcohol-induced deaths (liver cirrhosis and other health problems) has continued to rise.
Although the opioid overdose numbers have had a steep increase, alcohol still kills more people.
Also, it’s not uncommon for the problems to be linked. When taken together, opioids and alcohol increase the each other’s risks. The numbers may be telling the same story—an increase in drug use in general.
Money for Addiction Treatment and Research?
Congress recently passed a groundbreaking bill known as the 21st Century Cures Act. The measure contains $1 billion to combat the opioid epidemic. This includes money for addiction treatment and prevention.
“The prescription opioid and heroin epidemic continues to devastate communities and families across the country—in large part because too many people still do not get effective substance use disorder treatment,” said Michael Botticelli, Director of National Drug Control Policy, in a statement. “That is why the President has called since February for $1 billion in new funding to expand access to treatment.