New Data Show Growing Complexity of Drug Overdose Deaths in America: CDC

Atlanta, GA–U.S. overdose death rates linked to synthetic opioids, likely from illicitly manufactured fentanyl (IMF), increased more than 45 percent from 2016 to 2017 while death rates from heroin and prescription opioids – still far too high – remained stable.

The findings come from an in-depth CDC analysis of the latest available drug overdose death data and expands upon data released in November by the National Center for Health Statistics. The report, published online today in an early release from CDC’s MMWR, analyzes the growing number of U.S. drug overdose deaths from 2013 to 2017, and by demographic and geographic characteristics from 2016 to 2017. More than 702,000 Americans have died from drug overdoses from 1999 to 2017 – about 10 percent of them in 2017 alone.

Opioids were involved in over two-thirds of overdose deaths in 2017.  Of the 35 jurisdictions reporting data sufficient for analysis, 23 states and the District of Columbia saw increased rates of death linked to synthetic opioids. IMF likely drove the 1.5-fold increase in deaths involving synthetic opioids from 2016 to 2017.

Previously, deaths involving synthetic opioids mainly occurred east of the Mississippi River. The latest available data now show eight states west of the Mississippi had significant increases in such deaths: Arizona, California, Colorado, Minnesota, Missouri, Oregon, Texas, and Washington.

While overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids expanded, heroin- and prescription-opioid-involved deaths remained stable from 2016 to 2017. However, overdose death rates involving heroin and prescription opioids were, respectively, seven and four times higher in 2017 than in 1999.

There were more than 70,000 drug overdose deaths in 2017, with a rate of 21.7 per 100,000 population. The rate increased by nearly 10 percent from 2016.

The rates of overdose deaths involving cocaine increased by more than 34 percent. The rate of overdose deaths involving psychostimulants increased by more than 33 percent. The largest percent change increases in opioid-involved death rates were among blacks (25.2 percent) and adults over age 65 (17.2 percent).

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