Drug overdose deaths in 2016 most likely exceeded 59,000, the largest annual jump ever recorded in the U.S., the New York Times reports. The death count is the latest consequence of a public health crisis: opioid addiction, now made more deadly by an influx of illicitly manufactured fentanyl and similar drugs. Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death among Americans under 50. Although the data are preliminary, the Times estimates that deaths rose 19 percent over the 52,404 recorded in 2015. All evidence suggests the problem has continued to worsen in 2017.
Because drug deaths take a long time to certify, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will not be able to calculate final numbers until December. The Times compiled estimates for 2016 from hundreds of state health departments and county coroners and medical examiners. They represent data from states and counties that accounted for 76 percent of overdose deaths in 2015. The initial data point to large increases in drug overdose deaths in states along the East Coast, particularly Maryland, Florida, Pennsylvania and Maine. In Ohio, which last week sued five drug companies for allegedly abetting the opioid epidemic, the Times estimates overdose deaths increased by more than 25 percent in 2016.