Fatal drug overdoses in the United States reached an all-time high in 2014, driven largely by heroin and prescription opioid pain reliever abuse. The CDC’s recent analysis of mortality data found that of the 47 055 drug overdose deaths in 2014, 61% involved opioids, a 14% increase from the previous year (Rudd RA et al.MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2016;64[50-51]:1378-1382).The rise in opioid overdoses has tracked an increase in prescriptions for opioid pain relievers, which have quadrupled since 1999. Since 2000, opioid deaths have surged by 200%, affecting adults of all ages, races, and genders. Overdose deaths from synthetic opioids (not including methadone) increased by 80% from 2013 to 2014. Illicitly produced fentanyl, a short-acting opioid, is suspected in many of those deaths.
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Abuse of prescription opioids such as oxycodone and hydrocodone also is the strongest risk factor for experimenting with heroin, the researchers noted. Heroin-related deaths increased by 26% from 2013 to 2014 and have tripled since 2010. Cheap prices, easy availability, and high purity have fueled the increase.
The researchers called for safer prescribing of opioid pain relievers as well as improved access to medication-assisted treatment and behavioral therapies, naloxone to reverse opioid overdoses, and syringe service programs to prevent HIV and hepatitis C virus infections.
“To curb these trends and save lives, we must help prevent addiction and provide support and treatment to those who suffer from opioid use disorders,” CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH, said in a statement. “This report also shows how important it is that law enforcement intensify efforts to reduce the availability of heroin, illegal fentanyl, and other illegal opioids.”