Opioid deaths in the U.S. continued to surge last year, surpassing 30,000 for the first time in recent history, says the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. That marks an increase of nearly 5,000 deaths from 2014. Deaths involving powerful synthetic opiates, like fentanyl, rose by nearly 75 percent from 2014 to 2015, the Washington Post reports. Heroin deaths rose by more than 2,000. For the first time since at least the late 1990s, there were more deaths due to heroin than to traditional opioid painkillers, like hydrocodone and oxycodone. “The epidemic of deaths involving opioids continues to worsen,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden. “Prescription opioid misuse and use of heroin and illicitly manufactured fentanyl are intertwined and deeply troubling problems.”
Many opioid fatalities involve a combination of drugs, often multiple types of opioids, or opioids in conjunction with other sedative substances like alcohol. In a grim milestone, more people died from heroin-related causes than from gun homicides in 2015. As recently as 2007, gun homicides outnumbered heroin deaths by more than 5 to 1. There were 12,989 heroin deaths reported and 12,979 gun homicides.