Fatal Overdoses Nearly Tripled Over Last 15 Years In The US

By Victoria Kim 12/29/16

Heroin and synthetic opioids accounted for huge increases in death rates, according to a recent CDC report.

An arrangement of candles in the foreground of a funeral.

“The U.S. opioid epidemic is continuing,” says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as evidenced by recent numbers that show that between 1999 and 2014, fatal drug overdoses in the United States almost tripled.

The main driver of this trend is, not surprisingly, opioids. Of the total 47,055 drug overdose deaths recorded in 2014, 28,647 of them involved an opioid, according to the CDC report, released Dec. 16. That upward trend continued through 2015, when the agency recorded 52,404 drug overdose deaths—33,091 of which involved an opioid.

States with the highest rate of drug overdose deaths in 2015 included West Virginia, New Hampshire, Kentucky, Ohio, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts. Earlier this month, a Washington Post analysis showed that the opioid “epidemic” is actually concentrated in certain areas of the U.S. rather than being a widespread phenomenon. 

Using CDC data, the Post mapped out the geographical impact of the opioid epidemic, and found that heroin death rates in 2015 were highest in Ohio, West Virginia and Connecticut. Synthetic opioid death rates were highest in Ohio, West Virginia, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. These states demonstrated the highest concentration of fatal overdoses than anyplace else in the country.

According to the CDC, heroin and synthetic opioids accounted for huge increases in death rates, most likely driven by “illicitly-manufactured fentanyl and heroin.” The agency blames black market fentanyl for the rise in deaths, saying the number of deaths involving synthetic opioids coincide with "the number of drug products obtained by law enforcement testing positive for fentanyl, but not with fentanyl prescribing rates.”

U.S. authorities suspect China to be the main source of illicitly-manufactured synthetic opioids like fentanyl, which is traditionally used for pain relief, usually in the form of a patch or lollipop. But in recent weeks Chinese drug policy officials said there’s not enough hard evidence to accuse China of being a primary supplier of black market fentanyl.

Authorities there are considering cracking down harder on the country’s proliferating chemicals industry, after an October Associated Press investigation exposed just how easy it is to purchase substances like fentanyl from Chinese vendors online.

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr