The Opioid Epidemic Killed More People Than Gun Violence Last Year

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Source: Wikimedia Commons

Source: Wikimedia Commons

When people refer to America’s widespread drug and addiction issues as an “epidemic”, it can seem like alarmist to those unaffected. But, the latest figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show the phrase is far from an overstatement.

According to the latest data, over 50,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in the last year alone. One of the biggest contributors to the soaring overdose rate is the increasing abuse of opioids, a class of drugs including heroin and many prescription painkillers.

Heroin deaths alone account for 12,989 deaths last year, rising 23 percent from the year before. That places the drug slightly higher than guns for fatalities.

Heroin is a well-known dangerous drug, but synthetic opioids such as illicit fentanyl are quickly becoming a significant health concern as well. Death from these synthetic drugs rose 73 percent, killing 9,580 people in a single year.

Prescription painkillers a significant issue as well. While they showed the smallest increase in deaths, prescription medications still contributed to the highest number of fatalities. Misuse of these drugs took the lives of 17,536 people.

“I don’t think we’ve ever seen anything like this. Certainly not in modern times,” Robert Anderson told CBS News. Anderson is responsible for overseeing death statistics at the CDC.

While prescription opioids collectively account for more deaths than heroin, another recent report from the CDC suggests the illicit street drug is the single most deadly drug in America.

This report was designed to assess which drugs are specifically contributing to the most overdoses from 2010 to 2014. This is complicated by the fact that coroners have only recently begun listing specific drugs as a cause of death. Many who die of overdoses also frequently have multiple drugs in their system at the time of death.

According to this assessment, a prescription painkiller called oxycodone was the leading killer in 2010 and 2011. But, it has been surpassed by heroin and cocaine since 2012. In 2014, heroin accounted for almost 23 percent of overdose deaths.

“During this five-year period, the age-adjusted rate of drug overdose deaths involving heroin more than tripled, and the rate of drug overdose deaths involving methamphetamine more than doubled,” they wrote in their report.

This report also emphasized the growing threat of synthetic opioids like fentanyl, which surged near the end of the study. “The rate of drug overdose deaths involving fentanyl more than doubled in a single year (from 2013 to 2014).”

Both releases from the CDC highlight the need for increased addiction education and prevention efforts that reflect the current crisis. Unlike in the past, many who become addicted to opiates start with legal prescriptions. However, after they become accustomed to using the pills, they may resort to illicit means to satiate their addiction and gradually increasing the risk of a fatal overdose.

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