Drug overdose deaths continue to rise, new CDC report finds
January 1, 2019
As overdose deaths continue to rise, more are being attributed to the use of synthetic opioids, rather than prescription or heroin abuse.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report in December 2017, the latest data available, detailing the growing number of drug overdose deaths in the United States.
The Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, Drug and Opioid-Involved Overdose Deaths – United States, 2013-2017 examined increases in drug overdoses and deaths involving opioids across prescription opioids, heroin, and synthetic opioids other than methadone by demographic and geographic characteristics.
OD deaths continue to rise
In 2017 alone, there were more than 70,000 drug overdose deaths, which was an increase of more than 6,600 deaths from 2016. This was a 9.6 percent increase in the overdose death rate, continuing a trend observed since 1999.
Opioids are a significant contributor to the increase in drug overdose deaths, especially synthetic opioids, such as illicitly-manufactured fentanyl. From 1999 to 2017, more than 399,000 Americans lost their lives to opioid overdoses from prescription and illicit opioids.
Opioids were involved in almost 68 percent of drug overdose deaths in 2017, a 12 percent rate increase from 2016. The almost 45 percent increase in death rates involving synthetic opioids (other than methadone) was likely driven by illicitly-manufactured fentanyl.
Overdose death rates involving prescription opioids and heroin were stable from 2016 to 2017.
Rates of overdose deaths involving cocaine and psychostimulants with abuse potential also increased by more than a third in 2017.
The report examined differences in overdoses across the U.S. by demographics and county urbanization levels, showing increases in opioid overdose deaths across all demographics.
However, the increase was not equal across all states.
Colorado follows national trend
The CDC study found that, in Colorado, 578 people in 2017 — compared to 536 people in 2016 — were reported as having died from a drug overdose involving all opioids, a 0.5 percent increase in the rate of death.
Of those deaths, 300 in 2017 and 258 in 2016 were reported as a result of overdose involving prescription opioids, a 0.6 percent increase in death rate.
Colorado overdose deaths involving heroin fell, while those involving the use of synthetic opioids other than methadone rose.
Heroin accounted for 234 overdose deaths in Colorado in 2016 and 224 in 2017, a 0.3 percent drop in rates of death.
By comparison, deaths involving the use of synthetic opioids other than methadone rose from 72 in 2016 to 112 in 2017, representing a 0.7 percent increase in the rate of death.
When adjusted by age, the death rates recorded in Colorado rank it as 34th and the increase in death rate was not considered significant when compared to that of most other states and the District of Colombia.
What can be done?
A coordinated approach is needed to prevent and respond to drug overdoses, specifically those involving opioids, according to the CDC.
For its part, the CDC conducts surveillance and research; builds state, local, and tribal capacity for prevention; supports providers, health systems, and payers; partners with public safety; and empowers consumers to make safe choices.
"It is important to share the latest data, prevention resources, and information to spread the word about what we can all do to save lives from drug overdoses," according to the CDC.