The federal government estimates that roughly 44,000 people die of drug overdoses every year, a number that continues to grow.
A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released on Monday — based on 2015 data — shows a spike in overdose deaths across the United States during 2016 and 2017, suggesting the epidemic is making progress.
Overdose deaths hit a record high of 64,000 in 2017, fueled largely by a surge in the number of deaths among men and by white people. Overall, overdoses also resulted in 2.9 million emergency room visits in 2016, with prescription opioid painkillers contributing about a quarter of those visits.
More than half of the 1.8 million Americans who died in 2016 from opioids also had a prior injury, the report found. Opioids include prescription pain relievers, heroin and synthetic versions, like fentanyl.
Drug overdoses claimed 44,000 lives in 2017, up 7 percent from 2016. Fentanyl, a powerful opioid 50 times more potent than heroin, were responsible for a large portion of the increase in deaths from prescription opioids — a condition known as “poly drug toxicity,” the report found.
The surge in overdoses coincides with the introduction of new opioids. Among the 70 new prescription opioid painkillers or synthetic opioids that hit the market between 2014 and 2017, 56 percent were fentanyl-related.
The report warns that these newly designed drugs “are believed to contribute to an increase in the number of patients presenting to emergency departments for drug toxicity.”
“Many of these patients are not provided with treatment to reverse their overdoses,” the CDC said in a press release.
African-Americans have made up about one in six overdose deaths in 2017. One in ten overdose deaths was caused by opioids.
While white people are still disproportionately represented among overdose deaths, men have taken the lead in the past year. In 2015, women were more likely to overdose than men. By 2017, that had reversed and both genders were equally at risk.
“Men continue to overdose more than women and die more frequently than women, but the gender disparities seen in 2015 do not exist in 2017,” the CDC said.
More than 10 percent of overdose deaths were among people 65 years or older.
“Older people are more likely to die from opioid overdose. Between 2013 and 2015, opioid overdose death rates increased among people 65 and older by 14 percent, while the rate among people 65 years or older stayed about the same,” the CDC noted.
Maine is the state with the highest overdose death rate in 2017 — at 2.6 per 100,000 people. Louisiana comes in second at 2.3 per 100,000, but there are large variations based on the size of the state. In rural counties, the overdose death rate is 2.3 per 100,000, while urban counties have overdose rates of 2.0 per 100,000.
Ohio has the second-highest rate of new overdose cases per capita among men, according to the report. On the other end of the spectrum, the states with the lowest overdose rate per capita among men are Maine, Montana, West Virginia and Alaska.
Overall, more than 8 million people in the U.S. aged 12 and older experienced problems related to prescription opioids in 2016, according to the CDC. An additional 18.2 million people experienced problems related to illicit opioids.