CDC: Drug overdoses killed 63,632 Americans in 2016

There were estimates last year that the number of drug overdose deaths in 2016 might be as high as 60,000 but the actual numbers, released today by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are even worse:

Drug overdoses killed 63,632 Americans in 2016. Nearly two-thirds of these deaths (66%) involved a prescription or illicit opioid. Overdose deaths increased in all categories of drugs examined for men and women, people ages 15 and older, all races and ethnicities, and across all levels of urbanization.

CDC’s new analysis confirms that recent increases in drug overdose deaths are driven by continued sharp increases in deaths involving synthetic opioids other than methadone, such as illicitly manufactured fentanyl (IMF)…

  • Across demographic categories, the largest increase in opioid overdose death rates was in males between the ages of 25-44.
  • Overall drug overdose death rates increased by 21.5 percent.
    • The overdose death rate from synthetic opioids (other than methadone) more than doubled, likely driven by illicitly manufactured fentanyl (IMF).
    • The prescription opioid-related overdose death rate increased by 10.6 percent.
    • The heroin-related overdose death rate increased by 19.5 percent.
    • The cocaine-related overdose death rate increased by 52.4 percent.
    • The psychostimulant-related overdose death rate increased by 33.3 percent.

The sharp increase in deaths from cocaine and other drugs is believed to be, in part, a result of drug suppliers mixing illicit fentanyl into the supply, thereby increasing the chance of an overdose. The geographic distribution of overdose deaths doesn’t focus on one region of the country, though the specific drug causing the increases varies from state to state. The highest adjusted death rate was in West Virginia. The lowest rate was in Texas.

  • Death rates from overdoses involving synthetic opioids increased in 21 states, with 10 states doubling their rates from 2015 to 2016.
    • New Hampshire, West Virginia, and Massachusetts had the highest death rates from synthetic opioids.
  • Fourteen states had significant increases in death rates involving heroin, with Washington D.C., West Virginia, and Ohio having the highest rates.
  • Eight states had significant increases in death rates involving prescription opioids. West Virginia, Maryland, Maine, and Utah had the highest rates.
  • Sixteen states had significant increases in death rates involving cocaine, with Washington D.C., Rhode Island, and Ohio having the highest rates.
  • Fourteen states had significant increases in death rates involving psychostimulants; the highest death rates occurred primarily in the Midwest and Western regions.

There has also been a shift in the racial composition of the overdose victims. They are still largely white but the biggest jump between 2015 and 2016 was the number of opioid-related overdose deaths involving African-Americans, which jumped 56.1 percent in 2016. The second highest increase was among Asians.

The Hill reports that there are reasons to believe the numbers continued to increase in 2017:

Earlier this month, CDC released data that showed emergency room visits for suspected opioid overdoses increased by 30 percent between July 2016 and September 2017, an indication that the number of overdoses is still rising.

Rick Blondell, vice chair for addiction medicine at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at the University of Buffalo, said the opioid crisis is an epidemic of our own making. Prescription rates have skyrocketed, fueled in part by hospitals and doctors trying to treat chronic pain rather than the underlying symptoms.

“Long-term, it’s going to be 20 years before we dig ourselves out of the hole that we made,” Blondell said. “Some aspects of [the crisis] are getting worse.”

The total number of overdose deaths between 1999 and 2016 now stands at 632,331 with just over 350,000 of those related to opioids.