2016 was the worst year for drug overdose deaths in America, however 2017 has those numbers beat.
According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 72,000 people in the US are predicted to have died from drug overdoses in 2017 — that’s nearly 200 a day. Those numbers are higher than 2016, which was already a record year in which roughly 64,000 people in the US died from overdoses. At least two-thirds of drug overdose deaths in 2016 and 2017 were linked to opioids.
Analysts pointed to two major reasons for the increase: A growing number of Americans are using opioids, and these drugs are becoming more deadly. It is the second factor that most likely explains the bulk of the increased number of overdoses last year.
These shocking numbers mean that drug overdoses in 2017 killed more people than guns, car crashes, or AIDS ever killed in a single year in the US. As with 2016, the 2017 death toll is higher than all US military casualties in the Vietnam and Iraq wars combined.
The Fentanyl Epidemic
The rise in overdose deaths appears to be linked to fentanyl, a class of synthetic opioids. Over the past several years, fentanyl has supplanted the less potent heroin in illicit drug markets — where it’s misleadingly sold as heroin, laced into heroin to give the drug more kick, or sold on its own for people seeking an even stronger high. But because fentanyl and its analogs are more potent than heroin, the risk of overdose is significantly higher. Fentanyl can be laced in any drug such as cocaine, crystal meth, and even benzodiazepines that are sold illicitly.
Unexpected combinations of those drugs can overwhelm even experienced drug users. In some places, the type of synthetic drugs mixed into heroin changes often, increasing the risk for users. While the opioid epidemic was originally concentrated in rural, white populations, the death toll is becoming more widespread. The spread of fentanyl into more heroin markets may explain recent increases in overdose deaths among older, urban black Americans; those who used heroin before the recent changes to the drug supply might be unprepared for the strength of the new mixtures.
Overdose Deaths Increase
According to the C.D.C. estimates, overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids rose sharply, while deaths from heroin, prescription opioid pills and methadone fell.
The highest death rates came in West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio. Some states – Massachusetts, Vermont, Wyoming and Montana – have begun to reduce their number of deaths.
But across the country deaths have continued to rise, despite efforts to tackle the spread of opioid addiction through education, treatment and law enforcement measures.
The CDC’s statistics are preliminary because some deaths are still under investigation.
The Government Against The Opioid Crisis
Last Thursday, the Trump administration proposed that US drug-makers cut production quotas of the six most abused opioids by 10% next year to fight the nationwide addiction crisis.
In a statement, the justice department and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) said the proposed cut would be in keeping with Donald Trump’s effort to cut opioid prescription fills by one-third within three years.
The president also pressed the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, to sue drug manufacturers over the opioid crisis.
“I’d like to bring a federal lawsuit against those companies,” Trump said during a meeting of his cabinet at the White House. He did not name the companies.
The justice department and the DEA said they are proposing to cut production quotas for oxycodone, hydrocodone, oxymorphone, hydromorphone, morphine and fentanyl by 7% to 15%, depending on the compound, in 2019.
Hundreds of lawsuits have been filed by states, counties and cities against opioid manufacturers including Purdue Pharmaceuticals LP, Endo International plc, Mallinckrodt and Johnson & Johnson, seeking to hold them responsible for contributing to the epidemic.