The number of deaths from alcohol, drugs and suicide in 2017 hit the highest level since the collection of federal mortality data started in 1999, according to an analysis by two public health nonprofits, the Trust for America’s Health and the Well Being Trust reported by the New York Times. The two groups parsed the latest data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 150,000 Americans died from alcohol and drug-induced fatalities and suicide in 2017. Nearly a third — 47,173 — were suicides. The grim statistics are fueled by synthetic opioid deaths. Twenty years ago, fewer than 1,000 deaths a year were attributed to fentanyl and synthetic opioids. In 2017, more than 1,000 Americans died from synthetic opioid overdoses every two weeks, topping 28,000 for the year. Most of the increase occurred in the preceding five years, when such deaths rose tenfold and the opioid epidemic became the leading cause of death for Americans under 55.
West Virginia and New Mexico had the highest number of deaths, the analysis showed, with Mississippi and Texas the lowest. By region, the Northeast had the highest opioid death rates followed by the Midwest. The South’s rate was nearly half that of the Northeast. John Auerbach of Trust for America’s Health said that though doctors and drug companies have been taking steps to control opioid addictions, patients who are addicted to prescription opioids often shift to synthetic ones, like fentanyl, which is 50 times more potent than heroin. Fentanyl has also snaked its way into other drugs like cocaine, Xanax and MDMA, widening the epidemic. Suicides by gun increased 22 percent over the last decade. Guns were used in nearly half of the nation’s 47,173 suicides in 2017.