Drug overdoses killed about 64,000 people in the U.S. last year, says the first federal account of nationwide drug deaths to cover all of 2016, the New York Times reports. It’s a staggering rise of 22 percent over the 52,404 drug deaths recorded the previous year. Drug overdoses are expected to remain the leading cause of death for Americans under 50, as synthetic opioids — primarily fentanyl and its analogues — continue to push the death count higher. Drug deaths involving fentanyl more than doubled from 2015 to 2016, accompanied by an upturn in deaths involving cocaine and methamphetamine. The epidemic of drug overdoses is killing people at a faster rate than the H.I.V. epidemic at its peak.
Deaths involving synthetic opioids, mostly fentanyls, have risen to more than 20,000 from 3,000 in just three years. Deaths involving prescription opioids continue to rise, but many of those deaths also involved heroin, fentanyl or a fentanyl analogue. There is a downward trend in deaths from prescription opioids alone. There has been a resurgence in cocaine and methamphetamine deaths. Many of these also involve opioids, but a significant portion of drug deaths — roughly one-third in 2015 — do not. Of the 21 states that reported the highest quality data for 2016, the steepest rises were in Delaware, Florida and Maryland. Because of delays in drug death reporting, the data are not entirely complete. The final numbers, released in December, could be even higher.
It’s too early to know what 2017 will hold. Anecdotal reports from state health departments and county coroners and medical examiners suggest that the overdose epidemic has continued to worsen.